How I Came To Respect The Pebble And The Wearables Market

Two weeks ago I caved in to the wearables market, and ordered a Pebble watch. I figured, “if everyone is talking about wearables, wearing them and loving them, how bad can they be?” I never liked wearing a watch, because I found it uncomfortable, and only provided rare utility. Once in awhile I would need to check the time, and my phone did that anyways, so why have this heavy metallic object strapped to my wrist at all times?

I am however, a sucker for gadgets. If there are millions of people around the world raving about how great wearables are and how their lives have changed, that makes me wonder what I’m missing out on. So I started doing some research — lots of research actually — to find out which wearable was right for me. Long story short, I decided to buy the original Pebble, at its new price of $99 (down from $150). Its sleeker sibling, the Pebble Steel, costs $199, down from originally $250. Although the Steel looks incredibly sexy, I wasn’t a fan of the leather or the stainless steel bands that it was compatible with, so I chose the original Pebble instead with its silicone band.

It didn’t take me long after setting it up and strapping it to my wrist to realize what I was missing out on. The experience was absolutely great: getting notifications to my wrist saved a huge amount of effort in my daily routines. Now before you roll your eyes and write me off as another first-world laziness victim, hear me out. I’ve always been a one-device person, meaning I rely on my iPhone for everything. Naturally, I keep my iPhone in my jeans pocket all the time, and at some point, that constant buzz in my pocket got annoying — and even stressful — very quickly. When I’m in a meeting, or driving, or in some situation where looking at my phone screen probably isn’t the best thing to do, I always feel this urge to check who, or what, sent that notification. Honestly, most of the time, it’s nothing important, and I wouldn’t need to even think about taking out my phone to check.

It’s not about laziness.

Now with the Pebble, when a notification arrives, my wrist buzzes ever so slightly, and I just glance down: is it my friend’s Fitbit walking activity, or is it my manager asking for the latest updates for my project? If it’s an important notification (you pick which matters to you!), I act on it, and pull out my iPhone. Otherwise, I dismiss it with a discreet push of a button on the Pebble, and I’m taken back to the watch face. It’s not about laziness — it’s about getting a peace of mind, and not worrying about what if I miss that important email because I was busy, or didn’t feel the vibration?

Source: Tom’s Guide — Tech for Real Life

How about the competition?

As with any software platform, the Pebble, and its many competitors, are capable of doing just about anything under the sun. You can install a knockoff of Flappy Bird on it, use it to translate foreign languages, keep your golf score, etc. The flurry of Android Wear-based watches out there, like the sleek Motorola Moto 360, LG G Watch, and Samsung Galaxy Gear, among many others, all offer way more functionality than the Pebble does. These all have beautiful LED touch screens with color, and run a thinned-down version of Android. Now this is great and all, but what’s the downside to all this candy? Poor battery life. Nobody wants to charge a watch every day!

Sure, we could all get used to doing so, just as we got used to charging our phones every day, coming from now-so-called feature phones that lasted weeks on a single charge! But is there really a need to sacrifice that in this market? Is there an awesome enough benefit just like there clearly is with smartphones? In my humble opinion, no. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love my Pebble, but I have no desire to use it as a smaller phone. I want it to do just a very, very small subset of things my phone can do; not do as many things as my phone can do, just using a scaled-down UI.

2 things I want my wearable to do for me.

I’ve gone so far as to boil my reasons for using a wearable down to just two main things.

Firstly, battery life. It must last several days on a single charge. Now this means something close to a week, with normal usage. Not two to three days, and not barely touching it in fear that it would run out of battery. I want to be able to charge it infrequently enough that every night I don’t have to consciously think, “I better remember to charge my watch tonight or else…”

Source: Pebble

Secondly, simple notifications. I want to be able to see notifications from my phone in the least intrusive way possible. I only want to see notifications that originated from my phone, and not ones generated by the watch itself. In other words, I actually want the watch to be a slave to the phone, and not be smart enough to receive its own push notifications from apps and servers. Why? Because this is the simplest model. I don’t need to manage yet another set of notifications, and I don’t need to install and login to a hundred apps on the watch (yikes!). To me, if the watch becomes untethered, the more it would need to rely on its own processing capability, and thus the worse its battery life will be.

Source: Pebble

Pebble is King (right now at least).

The Pebble is the only wearable out there right now that satisfies these two requirements for me, thanks largely to its e-paper display. I don’t need a beautiful photorealistic color display on a tiny device on my wrist — the huge5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus in my pocket has that. Until LED technology (or something new) has the ability to render stunning high-resolution graphics without eating the device’s battery for lunch, I think e-paper is the most elegant solution to this problem, and the Pebble is the best implementation of this bar none.

I just wanted to take a minute to briefly mention a minor but important detail in the way Pebble notifications work. When you dismiss a notification that appears on the Pebble, the watch actually communicates this back to the iPhone, telling it that the notification has been seen. iOS then removes it from the lock screen, so you don’t get an incessant build-up of unwanted items on your lock screen, all of which have already been taken care of.Kudos to the Pebble team!

The Apple Watch — the elephant in the room.

Like every other Apple nerd who’s absorbed into the reality distortion field around 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, I’m probably going to get the Apple Watch when it comes out. Unless Apple has some amazing tricks up its sleeve, I highly doubt its battery life can exceed that of the Pebble (charge the Watch by inductively sucking juice out of the iPhone?!), so that will be a bummer, but we’ll probably have to get used to it. It might be better at serving up more contextual notifications (based on location, calendar events, etc), but in general, I believe that what it will be capable of, is a lot more than we actually need in a watch.

I’m going to wait to pass judgement on this until we learn more early next year, but for now, I don’t think it will make me ditch my trusted and reliable Pebble.

You can’t go wrong with a Pebble.

If you’re like me and you’re new to this market, you don’t really know how adding yet another electronic device to your life can help you, especially one that is going to be on your skin all day long, you can’t go wrong with getting a Pebble. Be it the humble original Pebble, or the high and mighty Pebble Steel, I would argue that it is by far the best bang for your buck at the time of writing. I would have bought it for its old price of $150, and after the price drop to $99, it was a no-brainer. It’s one of those things where you won’t realize what you’ve missed out on until you’ve used it in the flesh.



iOS dev @Airbnb. I like making apps that look nice, and have some thoughts about tech.

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Isaac Lim

iOS dev @Airbnb. I like making apps that look nice, and have some thoughts about tech.