Sunday, February 10, 2013

It's not a watch, it's a Pebble

After being prompted by a tweet from Chris Grossmeier (@cgrossmeier) to check out a Kickstarter project he decided to back, I joined him in the ranks of backers for the single most successful project in Kickstarter history. Originally requesting $100,000 to build a modest little "smart watch," Pebble Technology founder Eric Migicovsky found his project with over $10 million in backing before "selling out."

With that sort of support, Migicovsky revised the scope and breadth of the project, including additional features for the device and plans to retail the watch to non-backers. After many delays—not surprising with Kickstarter projects, but wholly appropriate for the new scope and scale of this one—a Pebble was delivered to my eager hands.
The friendly box design
Inside the spartan box: Pebble watch & its USB power cord
Kickstarter Edition
When first "firing up" the watch, it simply prompts you to pair it with a supported smartphone; in my case, I'd already downloaded the Pebble app from the Apple App Store and was ready to get going.

iOS App
First impressions are everything. It took very little effort to accomplish the Bluetooth pairing, and a software update for the watch was already available for transfer: it shipped with v.1.5.3 and was updated to v1.7.1. With the hints from the iOS app, I was also able to get some of the interactive functions going between watch and phone; it's also the conduit for loading additional watch faces.

Status and tipsApp & Watchface Loading
At this time, the SDK isn't publicly available, but a watch face design tool and app creator SDK are in the works. The watch comes with three "hard coded" watch faces, and five more are available in the iOS app. The built-in watch faces can't be deleted, and there's no function for hiding or reordering the menu: new faces always appear below the lowest permanent menu item (Settings).

Built-in Watch Face OptionsAdditional Menu OptionsDefault Watch Face
Strangely enough, while the Pebble has a configuration option for setting whether it's a 12- or 24-hour clock by default, one of the original, optional watch faces ("Big Time") was purpose-built to ignore the setting. Since my original inquiries about the behavior, the Pebble team has replaced the original design with a pair of watch faces—Big Time 12 and Big Time 24—to accommodate user desires rather than updating the single face to honor the system setting. This makes me wonder a bit about how sophisticated the API for custom watchfaces is going to be...

WatchfacesTwo faces instead of one
The Pebble is a work in progress: there are some gyrations that one must complete to get notifications for Mail and non-cell applications going (SMS and Call notifications work as soon as pairing is complete) for iPhone, and there are plenty of bugs being discussed on the Pebble forums. Luckily, the guys behind the project "get it," and have been serious about keeping backers updated.

Text Alert on phone
With "project update #32," they went through a laundry list of known issues. Although I'm personally experiencing some problems with my Pebble, it was heartening to see all those issues identified as "known problems" for my Pebble/Phone combination.

From a cosmetic standpoint, I've found that wearing the Pebble on the inside of my wrist is most comfortable; I've found other watches to work better that way, too, but there's the real potential for badly-scratching the watch face.
Watch "rolls away" on back of wrist.Inside wrist, face stays in a good place.
The backlight is understated enough that it won't cause comments from others at the movie theater, but plenty bright to make the watch readable in a dark(ened) room. It comes on when pressing buttons as one would expect; it will also come on with the flick of the wrist, a cool feature now that the watch contains an accelerometer (not in the original scope).

Overall, I'm satisfied with the Pebble, and am looking forward to the improvements in the functionality as time goes on.

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