RWW has dubbed this flood of devices, the “arm race,” and given the persistent iWatch rumors, you’d expect Apple to join the race very soon.
While many are watching and waiting, we’ve decided to jump in with a watch that’s already (sort of) shipping, the Pebble.
Why? First, Jeremy, our fearless leader, has one by virtue of backing the initial Kickstarter project. Plus, Pebble has an SDK and small, but dedicated group of developers already pushing the device and probing its capabilities.
I got my Pebble a few weeks ago, and quickly set it up and got down to business adding watchfaces and pushing watch apps to the device. There are differences between the two.
I quickly hit my functional limit with the SDK, which requires C, a skill I only developed minimally back in the first Clinton administration, so my impressions are basic at best. Even so, here they are.
I’m not a watch guy, so take that into account. The Pebble doesn’t do much, and that’s OK. It’s solidly constructed, with a rubbery band, which can be replaced, and a display that is big enough to read, but not too big for the average wrist. It’s chunky, in a cool way and very easy to read, thanks to its display which also contributes to its hefty battery life.
In my unscientific testing, the battery life has been outstanding. It’s been on my desk for at least a week without a charge.
The watch body has four buttons, three on the right side, one on the left, for basic navigation. This design is decidedly right-hand friendly, depending on how much you decide to manipulate the watch. If I were using it left-handed, I might find it difficult to press the buttons.
Again, not a watch guy, but the overall weight seems comparable to other watches.
Initial setup of the Pebble requires a smartphone app, iOS or Android. Although I didn’t try, I think the Pebble would function just fine as a basic watch without the smartphone.
The Pebble uses Bluetooth to communicate with your phone, and the app controls the notifications you receive on the Pebble, which include new emails, texts, calls. There might be more, but again, not a watch guy, limited testing.
I did test the mail notifications from the Android Gmail and stock Email apps; the Gmail app shows new mail, which you can open and scroll through via the buttons. The Email app only shows a general notification of how many new messages you have, with no ability to view the message.
OOTB, Pebble includes three watchfaces, and via the smartphone app, you can find a handful of others, including Big Time, which I’ve been using.
Beyond that, there’s a large community at My Pebble Faces, where you can find a surprisingly wide array of watchfaces.
Installing watchfaces (and watch apps) from your smartphone is the easiest path. For example, if you hit My Pebble Faces from Chrome on Android while running the Pebble app, each watchface has an Install button. After a quick update, the Pebble app pushes the watchface to your Pebble, where you can immediately use it.
Overall, the software experience is good. I’d expect the Pebble app to include more watchfaces over time as third-party developers are vetted, evolving into an official Pebble store, but for now, you have to trust the at-large communities like My Pebble Faces to get variety.
We’re an R&D outfit, so obviously, the SDK matters. After you register a developer account, you can download and install the SDK. The install instructions are very complete. On OS X, you need XCode or at least the command-line utilities, which is a bit of a bummer. In retrospect, I should have gone the Linux route to avoid that annoyance.
I breezed through the install and all the dependencies and then the Hello World example. Beyond this, I’m useless. So, now it’s time to hand off to Anthony (@anthonyslai), who used to teach C apparently, for the real work.
Deploying apps to your Pebble requires an http server, which isn’t a big deal. It was a bit of a surprise to me; I was expecting communication between the watch and computer via USB, but again, I’m functionally useless so there’s that.
. . . is a scheme for communicating with the internet from the Pebble, using a generic protocol and without any application-specific code running on the phone. It also provides a mechanism for storing persistent data, reading timezone information, and getting the user’s approximate location.
Nice little workaround.
Although I’m not a watch guy, I like the Pebble. I’m definitely interested in the coming tsunami of wearable devices and how they can enrich the overall user experience.
It’s actually refreshing to design for a device like Pebble, which has very limited functionality. These limits actually clear the mind of all the noise of what could be done and focus it on only what matters to the user.
And once I get the Pebble to Anthony, we’ll start working with Jeremy and any other smartwatch users we can find to build some representative cool stuff.
Thoughts about smartwatches generally or the Pebble specifically?
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