As it turns out, 2013 probably wasn't the Year of the Smartwatch, given that none of the wearable tech released last year set the world on fire. But 2013 was the year I got my first smartwatch, as the Pebble shipped in January, and, as one of the device's Kickstarter backers, I received mine a month later.
Pebble was back at CES this year, showing off new hardware (the metallic Pebble Steel), along with some welcome improvements to the watch's biggest weakness: its software.
Who knows if 2014 will really be the Year of the Smartwatch. Apple has yet to release a wearable, and if we've learned anything from the past decade, it's that Apple often sweeps in and redefines entire categories. (Remember a few years back when all those tablets were suddenly calling themselves slates because of a rumor that the iPad was going to be called the iSlate?) Maybe by the end of the year, smartwatches won't even be a thing, because the hardware we currently think of as smartwatches will be redefined into something totally different. Or maybe not.
Regardless of what Apple might do, I've been wearing a Pebble on my wrist for the last year. I think it's given me a better idea of where wearable tech comes in handy, and where it comes up short. Here's what I've learned.
It tells the time
When people see me wearing my Pebble, the first thing they inevitably ask is, "What does it do?" And when I first got the watch, I had one truthful answer: "It tells the time." It's a ridiculous statement, and yet if a watch fails to function like a traditional timepiece — if, for example, you have to press a button to wake it up to show you what time it is — it's not a watch.
If all the Pebble did was tell the time, it would be a fine (if overpriced) watch. The look is unobtrusive — I have the black model, and swapped out the awful stock vinyl band for a nice leather one — and some of the custom watch faces are fun. The battery lasts a week.
This seems like basic stuff, and indeed it is, but people forgive technology for faults they just tolerate in other product categories. A watch that requires a bit of fumbling just to see the time? So steampunk. A watch you have to plug in every day or two? No good. And that watch better look good, or at least not embarrassing.
For me, the Pebble passed these tests. Yes, I switch to the Rolex I inherited from my dad for special occasions, and I keep meaning to replace the band on my old steady Swiss Army watch. But I still use the Pebble most days, and I didn't really expect that to happen.
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