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Apple Watch Time Travel vs. Pebble Time: Just how big a rip-off is this?

Jared Newman | June 17, 2015
WatchOS 2 borrows liberally from Pebble's chronological data stream, but with some big differences in execution.

It turns out that as a contextual tool, time is pretty important. It dominates so many aspects of our lives--time for the next appointment, time to water the plants, time to watch the game--that a smartwatch could become pretty clever just by organizing its information around time.

That's why Pebble's Timeline and Apple's Time Travel are such important features. Instead of just reminding us of important events through notifications, as our phones already do, these smartwatch features give us a quick high-level overview on demand. They're much more powerful than notifications, yet faster than digging through apps or swiping through Glances. In other words, they're a great interaction model for a smartwatch. Pebble's Migicovsky was spot-on.

Pick a time, any time

While Pebble and Apple seem to have created similar systems, in some ways they are very different.

With Time Travel, Apple's use of "complications" on the watch face could let users combine data points for better insights. Say, for instance, you have one complication for sports scores, and another for sports headlines. A quick scroll back in time might give you the score and a one-line recap. Apple's watchOS 2 preview site gives an even simpler example: With calendar and weather complications, you could see the weather forecast for tomorrow's meeting--just in case you're thinking of having it outside.

The robustness of Apple's platform also makes a huge difference. Let's say you wanted to read more of that game recap. A tap on the complication would let you dive into the app for a lengthier description, and from there you might even be able to send the story to your iPhone with Handoff. Want to reschedule your meeting based on the weather? A quick chat with Siri could help you get that done. While you can also launch apps from Pebble's Timeline, they're not nearly as capable.

If there's an advantage for Pebble, it's that Timeline is less constrained in how much information it can reveal. Whereas the Apple Watch is limited by the number of complications that fit on the screen--you can't pack in more than five right now--with Pebble you can stuff as many points of data into the Timeline as you want,

The fact that Pebble's Timeline is separate from the watch face is also beneficial, in a way that nicely suits Pebble Time's always-on display. Right now, my Pebble Time review unit is rocking a picture of Mega Man on a blue background, and I wouldn't have it any other way. With the Apple Watch, four out of 10 watch faces don't support complications at all, and it looks like the upcoming Photo watch face won't have complications either. Using any of these faces will mean missing out on Time Travel entirely.


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