Pebble is launching an online software challenge, powered by ChallengePost, which begins today – right now, in fact. Developers who are interested in participating can submit new or existing apps designed for Pebble’s recently launched version 2.0 software development kit, and have two weeks to get those apps in.
Once Pebble has collected all the submissions on March 23rd, they’ll put them up for a round of public voting that spans four days, and from there 16 top apps will be selected to take part in a March Madness-style bracket competition to determine the final winner. Voting in the final bracket will be limited to registered Pebble users, so in theory the app that people actually want on their watches will take home the grand prize of $5,000. Every developer that makes it to the top 16 will get their very own Pebble Steel as a consolation prize.
This move, and the idea of these kinds of competitions in every case, is to drive more interest in building software for a particular platform. Pebble has only recently introduced its newest software SDK, and the Appstore it created for its smartwatch devices is now live on both iOS and Android. To continue to spur growth and drive interest in its hardware, it needs to step up its efforts on the development side, and get more developers interested in creating wearable apps.
Hackathons are one way to build developer interest, but the key to generating sustainable interest in Pebble development will be demonstrating that you can build or significantly add to a real business with Pebble apps. Currently, the Pebble Appstore resides within the iOS and Android app, which means that it can’t offer paid content on the iPhone side at least without offering up a 30 percent cut to Apple. There’s a workaround: devs can charge for smartphone companion apps, but that means having to do a lot more coding than is required for building something simple and Pebble-only.
An online dev competition can raise the profile of Pebble’s SDK and reward hobbyists, but the startup needs to work out a clear path to profitability for potential dev partners, and really demonstrate that building wearable smartphone has definite business benefits before things will really take off, in my opinion.