The Pebble Effect: The Spotlight Is Suddenly On Hardware Startups

"Got a disruptive Kickstarter project?" Head over to TechCrunch Disrupt's spanking-new "Hardware Alley" showcase.

Better than writing a note on your hand.

The last time Betabeat checked in with Pebble the smartwatch, Y Combinator alum Eric Migicovsky had raised some $4.6 million on Kickstarter for an idea that struggled to find venture capital backing despite, you know, actually making revenue. (For those of you keeping track at home, Pebble has added $3 million on top of that for a total of $7.6 million–and counting!–with 17 days left to go.) Yesterday, Mr. Migicovsky got The New York Times treatment.

Now, all the fuss seems to have migrated over to the agenda for TechCrunch Disrupt. The conference just announced that for the first time in New York, the event will feature something called “Hardware Alley” alongside its standard “Start-up Alley” showcase on May 23rd. “We’re looking for promising hardware startups,” writes TechCrunch. “Got a disruptive Kickstarter project?” Gee, wonder who they’re talking about there.

Spots for Hardware Alley are apparently filling up fast. But does that mean that VCs will reconsider the manufacturing headache and low retail margins of backing hardware plays? Not not necessarily, says John Battelle. On his blog, Mr. Battelle wondered why mainstream VCs shrugged off Pebble, even after its potential became clear. He speculated that it might have something to do with a little behemoth with a $556 billion market cap. After all, Mr. Migicovsky is planning a Watch App Store and software development for Pebble to let developers build apps.

If we’ve learned anything about Apple over the years, it’s that Apple is driven by its hardware business. It makes its profits by selling hardware – and it’s built a beautiful closed software ecosystem to insure those hardware sales. Pebble forces an interesting question: Does Apple care about new form factors for hardware? Or is it content to build out just the “core” hardware platform, and allow anyone to innovate in new hardware instances? Would Apple be cool with someone building, say, a larger form factor of the iPhone, perhaps tablet-sized, driven by your iPhone?

I don’t know the answer to that question (and doubt Apple would answer my call asking such a question), so I’ll toss it out to you. What do you all think? Is Pebble playing with fire here? Would Apple ever change its developer terms of services to cut the new company off?

Regardless of whether Apple played a factor in investment decisions, we imagine the Cupertino contingent probably isn’t hot on the idea of Mr. Migicovsky already being compared to Steve Jobs.

The Pebble Effect: The Spotlight Is Suddenly On Hardware Startups