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A year with Pebble: What I've learned from the smartwatch

Jason Snell | Feb. 10, 2014
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.

Glancing is good
So, the Pebble tells time. So what? What makes it smart? Well, it's the integration with my iPhone, of course. But when the Pebble first shipped, it wasn't very smart. It didn't integrate well with iOS notifications, and had extremely limited app support. I could see when someone called or texted me, but that was about it.

Pebble has come a long way in a year. iOS notifications now work consistently. The RunKeeper integration is great, and its new background functionality means that watch faces can download and display from the Internet without any weird hacks.

And with the launch of the new Pebble appstore this week, things are looking up. Not only are watchfaces getting smarter by being able to connect to Internet data sources — displaying the current weather, for example — but new apps allow a level of basic interactivity that's welcome.

But for me, it all comes back to the notifications. It seems like such a small thing, to be able to see notifications on your wrist instead of on your phone screen. And if you're someone who never wears a watch because you can always look at your phone to see the time, then maybe you don't need a smartwatch. But me? I'm lazy. I'm with those first clever people who realized that a clock you strap to your wrist is much more convenient than a clock that sits inside your vest pocket, and has to be extracted and then opened up to see the time.

Glanceable information is good. With the Pebble, I don't need to pull my phone out of my pocket every time it vibrates or chimes. Some text messages need responses, and others don't. I realize that not everyone is quite this lazy, but I love not having to reach into my pocket and pull out my phone just to find out that AT&T has sent me a free text message regarding my phone bill.

Simple interactivity is good
One thing the Pebble doesn't do well is communicate back to the phone. Just as it's convenient to read information coming from my phone without taking it out of my pocket, it would be convenient to use my watch to take basic actions without having to dip into the complexity of my phone. (Yes, I just called a phone "complex." Compared to a smartwatch, a phone is more like a computer: overkill.)

When I get a text in a meeting, I should be able to glance at my wrist, see the content of the text, and push a couple of buttons to reply with a pre-written message like, "I'm in a meeting, will reply when I can" or a very direct "Yes" or "No." (The new Pebble appstore seems to have enabled some degree of interactivity on the device at last, though quick-replying to texts appears to be impossible for iPhone users.)

 

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