We've been pretty skeptical of so-called smartwatches lately. The Sony Ericsson LiveView and Motorola ACTV haven't taken off with users, and both only work with Android devices. Pebble, the wildly-successful Kickstarter project has pre-sold over 85,000 units, but its practicality has yet to be proven in actual mass public use. I like the Nike+ FuelBand--it's the coolest looking straight-up watch of the bunch--but its functionality is currently limited to glorified motion tracking. Finally, there's the MetaWatch, which has only been sold as a development device (though we tested it last year). That's changing today as MetaWatch's makers have deemed it finally ready to be sold to consumers in the form of the MetaWatch Strata.
Like the Pebble, the Strata can iOS devices with Bluetooth 4.0, piping notifications for emails, calls, social network alerts, calendar appointments, and ambient stock/weather data while also letting you send commands back to your phone for music playback control. Both devices use low-power e-paper displays that read great in direct sunlight and have a compliment of vibration motors, accelerometers, and backlighting for various use cases. There are some substantial differences, though, such as Strata's iOS-only compatibility, which is a dramatic departure from the Android-friendly developer units released last year. According to MetaWatch's co-founder, Bill Geiser, the company decided to focus on iOS in the short term because of Android fragmentation. Geiser has also commented on the size difference between Pebble and Strata, calling attention to Strata's 42mm width vs Pebble's 50mm. Strata's will have a 96x96 pixel display compared to Pebble's 144x168 pixel display. MetaWatch also has no apparent plans for its own app ecosystem to support the Strata, instead relying on third-party iOS apps to tap into the watch's capabilities.
So why announce the Strata now after releasing development models? Geiser gives credit to iOS 6, which finally allows SMS (and iMessages) notifications and data to be relayed over Bluetooth. Geiser and co. believe that this will be the Strata's killer app. Theoretically, this will also be possible with Pebble, though the Pebble site still only lists compatibility with iOS 5 and specifically calls out SMS as one of the notification types that will only work with Android.
Find out more about the MetaWatch Strata on its Kickstarter page, where it can be pre-ordered for $159. It is scheduled to ship in September.