Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pebble Smart Watch [Review]

With glorious beginnings as one of the highest grossing Kickstarter campaigns of all time, the Pebble smart watch has a lot of expectations to live up to. I've lived with the Pebble for over three months now. Long enough to build some habits, form some opinions, and give developers a chance to come up with some compelling apps.

The Pebble Kickstarter launched on April 11, 2012. When I kicked in on the 24th, the first Kickstarter I've funded, it was well over its goal of a $100 thousand. On May 18th the campaign ended with over $10 million in backing. In those early days, part of the Pebble’s appeal was watching this wildly successful Kickstarter grow and grow. $10 million is serious money and the Pebble guys made it in a month with nothing but an idea and a good sales pitch. I wasn't sure if they’d make good on their promise, but I was willing to take the risk.

The estimated delivery for the Pebble was originally September 2012 and I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on the thing. I found mine on the stoop on March 15th of 2013. From funding to reward in almost a year felt like a long time to wait. The pain was partially assuaged by fairly regular updates that included peeks at circuit boards, test jigs, and user interfaces. Being updated along the way felt a little like being part of the process and was almost worth the price of admission itself. Future Kickstarter wannabes take note: Including your backers in the process, as much as possible, may be one of the best rewards you can give them.

Unfortunately, my watch arrived at a bad time and it had to sit around in the box until I could get pictures of it. More waiting. I’m pretty sure that no one likes to wait, but I know for a fact that I HATE waiting, and waiting for a new gadget is the high on the list of the worst possible first world problems. It took a few weeks before I could get to it, but after it’s moment under the hot lights I've worn it every weekday since.

Tag Heuer and Breitling have nothing to worry about, the Pebble isn't a great looking watch. I've had a few people ask me about the watch, but they've been drawn to the binary watch face not the styling. I personally don’t mind the look of the Pebble but I’m not excited about it either. I don’t wear jewelry. A watch, on the other hand, has at least one valuable function and a quality watch can be worth every penny. The price of the Pebble wouldn't even cover the sales tax on a high quality watch, but it’s much more than just a pretty watch face.

Once paired with a smart phone, and set up, the Pebble can display text messages, email, calendar events, the weather, and so on. Since the release of the Pebble SDK in May, new watch apps and watch enabled phone apps are starting to appear at a good pace. RunKeeper recently released a new version of their iOS and Android apps that work with the Pebble. The last few weeks have seen the release of a few third party apps that can set the ringer on the paired phone, locate the phone, invoke Tasker tasks, and more.

I've used the Pebble from Monday morning to Sunday night a few times to test the battery and it went the distance with a bit to spare. Pebble claims 7+ days battery life, but I charge the non-removable battery every night. iFixIt has a Pebble teardown and they had to destroy it to get it open. I don’t have a problem with the Pebble being a disposable device at the its current price point.

A few days ago I had my first experience that really made me happy to be wearing a Pebble. I was troubleshooting a network issue and talking with someone on a desk phone. I had another person running some diagnostics at a remote location and updating me by text message. I was able to just look at my watch to get the information I needed without having to pick up my smartphone and unlock it every few minutes to get the messages. The ability to get those notifications instantly on my wrist made a somewhat stressful situation a little bit smoother.

Early adoption of new technology can be anything but smooth. If you think looking at your phone during a conversation is rude, try glancing at notifications on your watch when talking to someone. I've reflexively done it a few times and I've had a few people take it to mean that I was growing impatient with them or would like to be someplace else. In some cases they were right, but I didn't want to advertise it. Looking at your watch has been a social cue for at least a hundred years. If the way people use their phones is any indicator, bucking that trend is going to be painful.

The smart watch is a compelling extension to the smart phone and my experience with the Pebble leads me to think that smart watches are one of the next big things in mobile electronics. I’m looking forward to seeing more apps extended to the smart watch. I can’t wait until I can see my shopping list from Evernote on my watch, or check into Foursquare without taking my phone out of my pocket. There’s rumors of Apple, Google, and Microsoft smart watches and right now there’s another successful Kickstarter for the Agent smart watch. In the next few years everybody and their brother is going to be making a smart watch. Will the little guys like Pebble and the makers of the coming Agent be able to get the developers to build apps for the watch, or will they all flock to the big boys? Only time will tell.

It doesn't really matter what the future looks like. Right now I can control the Audible Android app from my watch and I’m getting time, weather, and notifications from a mess of services on my wrist. The first month or so I was a little unimpressed by the Pebble but it’s really coming into its own lately. Every couple of weeks there’s more and more apps that I’m interested in, and I’m completely satisfied with the meager amount of money I've invested to help bring this thing to market. The whole process has been fun and the Pebble just keeps getting better and better.

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