In April of 2012, a Kickstarter project was launched by a company aiming to create an electronic watch that served as a companion to your smartphone. A month later, the project exceeded it’s funding goal by over 100%, closing at over $10 million in pledges. Happily, I was one of the over 68,000 people that pledged. I received my Pebble about a month ago or so and I’ve been wearing it ever since.
The watch itself is fairly simple, a rectangular unit with an e-ink display, four buttons, and a rubberized plastic strap. The screen resolution is 144×168, plenty of pixels for some fairly impressive detail. The watch communicates with your mobile phone (Android or iPhone only) via a bluetooth connection. All software updates and app installation occurs over the bluetooth connection. There is a 3-axis accelerometer as well a a pretty standard vibrating motor for silent alerts.
According to the official Pebble FAQ, battery life is 7+ days on a single charge, but this depends on your overall use of the device. The more alerts your receive, the more the backlight comes on, and the more apps you use on the device, the shorter your battery life.
Pebble is still in the process of building the initial run of watches for backers. Black watches, being the majority of the orders, were built first. Other colors are coming online in more recent weeks. Pebble has a website where interested parties can track how many pebbles have been built and shipped.
I’ve been pretty impressed with the watch thus far. Pebble has been fairly responsive to inquiries I’ve made, and they seem dedicated to making sure they have a top quality product. Of course, as is typical on the Internet, not everyone is happy. There seem to be a lot of complaints about communication, how long it’s taking to get watches, and about the features themselves.
It’s hard to say whether these complaints have any merit, though. For starters, I can’t imagine it’s a simple task to design and build 68,000 watches in a short period of time. And to complicate matters further, it seems that many backers of Kickstarter projects don’t understand the difference between being a backer and being a customer.
When you back a Kickstarter project, you’re pledging money to help start the project. As a “reward” for contributing, if the project is successful, you are entitled to whatever the project owners have designated for your level of contribution. The key part of this being, if the project is successful. Some projects take longer than others, and times often slip. That said, I’ve only been part of one Kickstarter that has failed, and even that one is being resurrected by other interested parties.
But there are some legitimate complaints, some that can be addressed, and others that likely won’t. For instance, I’ve noticed that with recent firmware releases, the battery life on my watch had dropped considerably. Based on communication with the developers, they are aware of this and are actively working to resolve it. I’m not sure what the problem is, exactly, but I’m confident they’ll have it fixed in the next firmware update.
The battery indicator is a source of frequent discussion. Right now, there’s no indicator of battery life until the battery is running low. And that indicator doesn’t show on the watchface, it only shows when you are in other menus. This, in my opinion, is a poor UI choice. I’d much rather see a battery indicator option available for the watchface itself.
Menu layout was also a frequent source of frustration for users. In previous firmware releases, you had to actively go to the watchface you wanted. Recent releases changed this so that the watch was the default view and other screens were chosen as needed. The behavior of the navigation buttons on the watch were also updated to reflect this new choice.
So Pebble continues to improve over time. It’s an iterative process that will take some time to get right. I’m eager to see what future releases will bring. Next week, Pebble is scheduled to release the watch SDK, allowing users, for the first time, to start adding their own customizations to the watch.
The Pebble watch has a lot of potential. As the platform matures, I’m hoping to see a number of features I’m interested in come to fruition. Interaction between Pebble and other apps on iPhone devices would be a welcome addition. I would love to see an actigraphy app that uses the Pebble for sleep monitoring. From what I’ve read, sleep monitoring is even more accurate when the monitor is placed on the sleeper’s wrist. Seems like a perfect use for the Pebble.
I’d also like to see more of an open SDK, allowing users such as myself to write code for the Pebble. While I’m aware of the closed nature of the iPhone platform itself, it is still possible to add applications to the Pebble itself. I can’t wait to see what others build for this platform. Given a bit of time, I think this can grow into something even more amazing.