In early 2012 the tech world was stunned when Kickstarter, an online community which raises funds for small startup projects via ‘pre-sales’, raised more than USD$10 million for a new company called Pebble. What was it that Pebble wanted to create that caused so much excitement? A cheap looking, plasticky digital watch – BUT a watch that connected to your smartphone and received notifications and via third-party apps was able to display other information in conjunction with smartphone apps.
Being the nerd that I am, I ponied up my stake (USD$99 – a good deal really!) and sat back to wait for the device to arrive – and waited, and waited and waited… This is the trouble with Kickstarter – you are funding a startup so timelines sometimes go out of the window – or perhaps the product doesn’t even get made. This time, however, the Pebble did finally arrive although it was nearly a year later.
Whilst I was quite pleased with the capability of the Pebble – it suffered from one major drawback that stopped me from wearing it all of the time. Frankly – it looked like it had been a giveaway with a McDonalds Happy Meal. It just looked too cheap – and too nerdy – to wear in a business environment.
Luckily Pebble realised this and in early 2014 have launched a new model – the Pebble Steel. Whilst the internals remain the same, the watch is now clad in stainless steel and comes with a black leather strap and a stainless steel strap – and is quite a bit smaller. It is a much nicer device and does not look at all out of place on your wrist whilst wearing a business suit – which leads to one of the issues with the current crop of wearables – they are quite male centric!
On the software side Pebble have worked really hard to continually improve and upgrade – with version 2 of the Pebble OS being launched alongside the Steel – as well as an appstore built right into the Pebble app on the phone. Pebble works really well with iOS – allowing you to read the first few lines of each email and configure just about any notification to be sent to the device. I have found this to be less the case with Android – unless you are a Gmail user exclusively you just get a ‘You Have Mail’ type notification. Given that the primary role of the device is to allow you to triage your messages without taking your phone out of your pocket – I find this more annoying than not having it at all! There are several third-party apps that promise to fix this – but I have found them somewhat confusing to set up. I hope that this is an area that Pebble are able to improve on in time.
As a digital marketer I am fascinated by the concept of wearable technologies and wonder how it might impact on how we communicate with our customers. Only a couple of days ago, KitKat released a branded app for the Pebble which tracks elapsed time and activity and then reminds the user to ‘Have a break, have a KitKat’. I suspect this is only the beginning…
So how useful is the Pebble on a day to day basis?
The simple answer is that it is quite a personal thing. If you spend a lot of time in meetings it is fantastic to be able to quickly see who an email or call is from without overtly looking at your phone. The flipside is that there really is never any peace… although you can configure a ‘quiet time’ so it is not buzzing at you all night!
One feature I have found more useful than I originally thought is the ability to control music. I quite like to cook and I listen to tech podcasts (from twit.tv if interested) when in the kitchen via a bluetooth speaker. It is great to be able to start and stop and skip through ads from the Pebble…
Also when exercising, Pebble has a companion app that works with Runkeeper – a smartphone app which tracks your walking/running. This allows me to see at a glance how far I have walked, for how long and what my time is per kilometre. At the same time I can control my music or podcasts – while my phone remains safely tucked out of sight in my pocket or backpack.
In a nutshell then, for me, the Pebble is something that I just can’t seem to do without now. I have a beautiful wristwatch which now mostly languishes on the dresser – on the occasions that I do wear it I find that I feel somehow disconnected. Pitiful, I know – but thats the way it is!
There are several other wearables on the market now – several by Samsung and one by Sony. Some focus more on health tracking – some on notifications. Google have a new partner program which will see fruit this year called Android Wear – so expect to see many more wrist wearables in the near future!