The Pebble watch absolutely smashed it’s Kickstarter goal of $10,000 last year – finally cresting at just over $10,000,000. The founders promised a genuinely useful wearable. An E-Paper watch that let you download new watch faces and more importantly communicates with your smartphone.
If I’m honest, I missed the boat to back the Pebble on Kickstarter, and ended up in the rather long pre-order queue – a frustrating experience as Pebble attempted to fulfil old kickstarter orders, take new pre-order payments and negotiate with retailers. This culminated in a bit of a PR disaster as European kickstarters were left Pebble-less after almost a year of waiting, while they were openly available in Best Buy stores in the United States! Ouch.
Now that I’ve received and used my Pebble for a month or so – how are we getting along? Fantastic, actually, although we have some ‘trust’ issues…
The watch is well built, solid and it’s slightly retro styling appeals to me. It features a vibration alert, which is used for notifications and alarms – far more subtle than a normal watch. There is also a 3-axis accelerometer (currently ‘turned-off’ for Pebble Developers, but watch this space) used as a mechanism to turn on the backlight via a wrist flick. As an interaction, this wrist flick works beautifully, one of those simple things that just feel ‘right’ and I never want to go back to fiddling with tiny buttons to activate a backlight in the dark again. Ever.
The Music app is great, and works seamlessly with the iPhone – including Spotify. It picks up the track information immediately and lets you play, pause and skip through. Pretty useful, and really cool when your smartphone is docked in speakers across the room.
Pre-installed watchfaces – Meh. However there are designers out there who are embracing the challenge of designing for a low-resolution black and white display such as Albert Salamon and his ‘ttmm’ collection (http://www.ttmm.eu/) which is clean, crisp and genuinely re-thinks how to display time.
Watch apps and smartphone companion apps are something I’ll go into in my next blog post, but HTTPPebble for iOS is a must-have for most owners. It allows developers to create watch apps which can communicate with HTTPPebble in order to get GPS coordinates and communicate with online services via HTTP.
Notifications are a little bit buggy with iOS for anything other than email, texts and phone calls, however these are the main types of notification I receive and they work pretty well. I also had some success with an app called ‘Pushover’ which simply receives incoming push notifications and alerts you via Pebble if you have one. Pushover has a hook for IFTTT (https://ifttt.com/) which increases it’s usefulness tenfold – How about a notification when there is a traffic incident on your work route, or you are tagged in a Facebook photo, or even an alert if your WeMo Motion sensor is triggered…
This is the point where the niggles I have around Pebble really start to surface.
Firstly, a device which I wear, which is personal, and which needs to deliver timely information needs to be robust. I need to trust it enough to turn vibrate off on my phone, and leave it in my bag – confident that my notifications will arrive on the wrist. At the moment, I can’t do this – occasionally notifications will turn themselves off, or the bluetooth will disconnect. It only needed me to miss a single important text message for this trust to be lost, to turn smartphone back to vibrate, and move it back into my pocket.
Secondly, I don’t understand why Pebble have not incorporated some of the good ideas developers have produced into their core offering. The Pebble smartphone app should have all the functionality of HTTPPebble rather than requiring users to install both. Why do I have to pay for and download Pushover in order to interact with IFTTT? Pebble should have been on there from day 1 – it is THE quickest route to connecting Pebble to a bigger ecosystem in the Internet of Things.
These issues aside, Pebble is great. I’ve been developing a little something for it – find out more in my next post.