Any of us who are paying attention to the blogosphere and tech articles know that “smart” watches are the next “big thing”. I won’t give a whole history of the smartwatch wars, but Microsoft seems to have tried to pioneer this with the Spot series of watches, but Pebble reignited the market in May of 2012 with their Kickstarter campaign.
Since then, Samsung has come out with their Galaxy Gear series of devices, Google is marketing a concept watch, and of course, all the rumors say Apple is working on something.
My First Run In With a Pebble
Towards the end of last year my good friend Miguel Castro showed up wearing a Pebble watch. During his time in meetings, I noticed him checking his watch frequently. At one point he stopped and mentioned that he wasn’t checking the time, but glancing at emails and notifications and he wasn’t trying to be rude.
Social – Not Just About Websites
This got me to thinking about the social aspects of smart watches. Normally, if you’re at a meeting, conversing with someone or on a date, if you’re caught looking at your watch, it’s usually an indication of boredom. Will smart watches changes this? Could it be seen as more polite to quickly glance at your watch rather than constantly pulling your phone out of your pocket? Of course, the “proper” solution in all cases is to keep your phone in your pocket, and your focus on the task at hand, but it seems that we’re quickly veering away from that single minded focus.
My Learning Time
I decided a bit ago to give a smartwatch a try and obviously ended up with the Pebble.
Historically I’ve been “into” watches and currently own 14 including the Pebble. Would have had 15 but one “disappeared” during a move… The watches that I’m into tend to be very thin and light, not those monstrous tank watches that people seem to love these days.
Anyway, the size of the Pebble gave me some pause, it’s not terribly thin or small, but hey, I figured it was worth a shot.
I picked up the Pebble at a local Best Buy and fended off offers of extended warranties and screen protectors. To be honest, if this thing breaks after 6 months, I’ll just buy the Apple one… assuming it’s out by then!
The first thing you need to do when you get a Pebble is charge it. It was a bit disappointing that I couldn’t play with it during the drive home, but I guess as an adult I need to be able to keep myself entertained while my new gadget sits in a bag!
Once home and the watch was fully charged it was time to take it for a drive. The first thing you have to do is link it to your phone, either iOS or Android will work fine. Windows Phone 8 isn’t supported (more below).
There are a wide variety of watch faces available for download through the Pebble app on the phone, and some are pretty good, but I find that the ones that try to emulate an analog watch face just aren’t that pretty. The resolution on the screen isn’t good enough to render them crisply, so I’m generally staying with more digital or modern watch faces.
I did discover the Zoooom (Hop-Picker) one which is a great take on analog watches – definitely worth a look…
I’ve only loaded two applications onto my Pebble.
The first one is Pebble Cards, which allows you to scroll up and down (slowly) between multiple information pages. In my case, I have my appointments, the weather and battery % available. While neat, I’ve found that there are a few issues that make it less than optimal. One is the speed – switching between cards sometimes takes longer than just pulling my phone out or going to my laptop to see my next appointment. Second is that even though I’ve turned off “other” calendars, it shows some stuff I don’t care about, and it gets in the way. Finally, it just shows your next meeting, but only if you’re not currently in a meeting. Fortunately for my sanity most of my meetings don’t last the allocated time, but the card keeps showing my “current” meeting with no way to see my next one.
The other app I have loaded is the Leaf app, which is a controller for our Nest thermostat. Not much to say – it just works.
Walking the dog… Just having this on my wrist is handy while making sure our doggy doesn’t run into traffic.
Driving – at stops… When I drive, I keep my phone out of sight. However, if I know I’ve received messages and I reach a stoplight, a quick flick of my wrist will show me what I missed. Easy, safe. fast and nondisruptive.
Declining and accepting calls… Honestly, I don’t use a mobile phone for too many calls, but when they do come in, a quick glance at the watch will tell me if it’s worth getting my phone out of my pocket. And even allows me to answer or reject the call quickly. If I’m wearing headphones (as I usually do when walking the dog), then it’s an even better experience.
Is that a call? A text? A phantom vibration? A benefit I never thought about is clarity around whether your phone actually vibrated.
The Social Results
Here’s where the wheels fall off. People with, shall we say, geekish tendencies will spot the watch and ask about it. Generally they end up pretty impressed with it, and some even appreciate that it serves mostly as a notification device and doesn’t try to be a miniature phone.
After that though, the experience goes downhill pretty quickly. If you are in a social situation, whether it is at work or out in the real world, if you are caught looking at your watch, people will think that you are bored. I’ve been called out on this multiple times. At lunch yesterday with some coworkers it was agreed that if you’re going to check your email, you might as well be honest about it and pull the phone out of your pocket and look.
Not Quite Ready for Prime Time
Over the past few weeks things have gotten a bit wonky. Frequently the watch will display a missing connection icon while the phone is sitting right next to it. At other times, a notification will show up on the iPhone lock screen indicating that the Pebble software wants to communicate with the watch, but when I swipe it, it doesn’t do anything related to that. It just doesn’t work.
I’ve taken to rebooting the Pebble whenever anything weird happens and usually that fixes it for a bit. But to be honest, if it doesn’t “just work”, then it’s a real problem.
These watches are on the edge of greatness, and ones that are designed for Android phones are starting to get revised very quickly. Pebble had better pick up the pace to remain competitive (adding colors is weak). And finally, will Apple actually release a watch, and if they do, will I find myself actually willing to wear only one watch going forward? Time will tell!