Caroline was throwing fish to the largest dolphin — the big male called Scarback — when a gentle tickling on Floyd’s wrist announced an an incoming call. He tapped the slim metal band to quench the silent alarm and forestall the audible one, then walked to the nearest of the comsets scattered around the room.”
— 2010: Odyssey Two (1982)
After almost four weeks with the Pebble smartwatch I have to admit I’m pretty satisfied. I bought the Pebble out of curiosity and a love of new technology, but its proven itself and demonstrating staying power on my wrist. The Pebble is not all things to all people, and never will be, but for a limited set of uses it’s been a great addition to my daily load-out.
Number one, I love the notifications — that’s the biggest weakness of keeping a phone in your pocket. Either you need it to make a significant noise which is as likely to disrupt someone else as alert me, or it’s on vibrate in which case I find I miss a lot of calls and texts. Therefore, I was very happy with the pebble which provides subtle but clear alerts. I have yet to be disappointed in this regard since the iOS 7 update corrected some previously glaring bugs a few weeks ago.
With respect to those alerts, I love that I can quickly and easily screen those alerting events to see if it needs my immediate attention. A text or e-mail from my family or a friend will justify me pulling my phone out to read at length, whereas I can quickly note and ignore a daily deal email from The Clymb and go on with whatever I’d been doing.
Being a non-jailbroken iPhone the most fully-featured Pebble app that I’m using is Smartwatch+, which I don’t even use as my default face. I feel that the developers’ decisions regarding what to place on this very limited real estate speaks to a fundamental limitation of smartwatches: the fact that there simply isn’t that much we need to see at a glance, multiple times a day. For instance, Smartwatch+ shows the time, the weather, phone battery status, and a single upcoming appointment (more if you have a jailbroken iPhone). I never refer to weather apps, but even if I did, do I need to be reminded of the weather every time I check my wrist? No. The same is true of battery status. I will undoubtedly use my actual phone frequently enough to know when I’m running low — I don’t need it on my wrist. Even the calendar notification — it’s nice, but hardly gives me a useful understanding of what’s ahead in my day.
Aside from the notifications, one high point is Runkeeper. When paired with the iPhone app it gives me great live information on my run in a way that’s much easier to read than a Nike Fuelband or Sportband. Also, it’s the one use case (that I’ve experienced so far) in which the Pebble’s buttons are very useful in driving some other program (pause run, next music track). This app alone is almost worth the cost of the watch for me, compared to those other products I’ve used in the past.
Fundamentally, I can only conclude that in its current conception smartwatches are good for two things: alerts, and conveniently passing input to phone-resident apps (like the Runkeeper app).
As an aside, I can’t write about the Pebble without pointing out one extremely obnoxious point of misleading advertising. I’ve shown a number of people the Pebble and have them respond along the lines of, “Oh, it has the e-ink screen!” Wrong. The Pebble does not have an e-ink screen. Pebble markets the Pebble as a e-Paper screen, which I think is a clever name to make people think they mean e-ink. The Pebble features a low-power LCD. I think it may ultimately be better than an e-ink screen because it can be backlit, which has come in handy, but it bothers me to think that Pebble has tried to pose as something it’s not.