Talking tech since 2003

Back near the beginning of September, I picked up a jet black Pebble smartwatch at a local Best Buy. As an iOS user, options are pretty limited on the smartwatch front but, as it turns out, that isn’t a bad thing. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch has been panned by reviewers and Sony has tried a couple of times to break into the market without success. The Pebble, created by a small company with a few million dollars in Kickstarter funds, has gone toe to toe with offerings from mega corporations that boast huge R&D budgets. And, so far, the Pebble is winning.

How can this be? I believe it’s because the Pebble does a few things and does them well. It doesn’t try to throw the kitchen sink at you by turning your watch into a miniature smartphone. Instead, the Pebble is an extension of your phone only, and its aim is to reduce repetitiveness. Think about the everyday use of your smartphone and why you need to pull it out of your pocket so often: to look at your caller ID, answer/dismiss a call, change a music track, view an alert or message, etc. Those tasks get offloaded onto the Pebble, so you can take a quick peek at your watch and take care of business.

pebbleIn my time with the Pebble — and this is written from the perspective of an iPhone user — I’ve found that I’m not mindlessly pulling my phone out and unlocking it as much. It stays in pocket, only coming out if the Pebble alerts me to something I need to do on the larger screen. And I’ve actually found I can disable the vibration feature of my iPhone while on silent, because any alert I get vibrates the Pebble (which is more quiet). That vibration is less likely to be heard by others — I’m sure you’ve all seen/heard the vibrating smartphone on a conference table — so you can still be alerted to a new call, message or update without disrupting others.

A recent iOS software update and Pebble firmware update brought support for iOS 7; as a result, the Pebble can alert you to any notification you receive in Notification Center. It’s a big step up from where the software was just two months ago, and it makes the watch feel even more like a part of the phone instead of its own device. The way I’ve set my iPhone up, with silent mode on most of the time and vibrations off, everything comes through the Pebble before it gets to me or bothers anyone else. The Pebble essentially becomes Notification Center, and it acts as a sort of gatekeeper for anything other than a second or two of my attention.

I can’t actually tell you if I’m more efficient now, but it feels that way. And I feel less addicted to my phone, too, though what I’ve really done is found a different way to view and interact with it. So I’ve not severed the lifeline, when I look around at folks with their heads down and faces glowing, I feel like I’m on the right track.

Are there some things the Pebble could do better? Absolutely. For starters, the screen seems very easy to beat up. I’ve already put two noticeable scratches on it and, for the life of me, I can’t recall how they got there. I’d also love to see more apps build custom experiences to work with Pebble. RunKeeper is one app that does so already, and more are expected to come, but the options at this point are thin. And lastly, this may seem a little nitpicky, but a stopwatch and an alarm function should come standard on the Pebble. If it comes on a $5 watch from Walmart, it should probably show up on a smartwatch. Just sayin’.

If you own a Pebble, what are your thoughts on it so far? We’d love to hear from you.

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