Thursday, June 27, 2013

My time with Pebble: The next revolution will be on your wrist

I am a watch guy. For some years now I have been wearing mechanical, dial-indicating timepieces.

And not just as a fashion statement. I legitimately read the time with it, instead of just pulling my phone out of my pocket all the time. I keep it set properly so I can trust it. I use the twisty bezel to time things, like my running or biking.

And I am both excited and sad to say I have hardly worn a dedicated watch for months. Pebble has ruined them for me.

What's a Pebble?

I keep thinking that these are a well-known device, but I think for a change I am suitably cutting-edge. I have seen zero others in the wild, and while I get street cred for wearing it from those in the know (the Apple store employees suitably fawned at me wearing one last week) very few people are in the know. In brief, it's a smart watch.

Yeah, those exist. You don't have to wait for Apple to define what a smart watch will mean and can go buy one now. Several others exist already. But I think the Pebble sets the trend. Now, it's not perfect.

Dick Tracy Got it Wrong

Smart watches as an idea have been around forever. I sometimes think this is the result of faster-horse syndrome. We just try to stretch technology that exists otherwise to fit in our pockets or on our wrists.
But then I remember that the people who made machine-age stuff really thought it through. That there were generations of work to evolve and improve products. Like watches. We didn't wear wristwatches right away, but evolved to that. Then used them for a long time. There are standards around them, so my Pebble takes standard bands. Which is great as the one it came with is atrocious. I wouldn't wear it if not for my Maratac nylon strap.

Smart watches have actually made it to market since at least 1999, but I think most or all previous attempts failed at one key attribute. They try to be self-contained units.

The new generation are just monitors, or remotes, that connect to other devices. This works great now because the smartphone has evolved to be the new digital hub.

Read Only

I think the other key change is that we've finally gotten to the point we're comfortable with the concept of a remote, or monitor. Dick Tracy's two-way wrist radio (later: TV) was two-way. It was not just a free-standing device but required lots of input, talking into it, etc.

I've seen an early 2000s Samsung smart watch (not the one in the link above) and a research report on it. It was terrible, and almost all because it was a phone in a watch. Now, lots of apps for the Pebble are two way, though limited in scale due to the small number of buttons. The Glance app for Pebble has lots of extra features, for example, that allow you to send pre-packaged SMS responses.
But I never, ever use any of these features.

It's About Context

Because, I think, of the unique context of Thing On Your Wrist. Like I said, I use it constantly. And I use it to avoid pulling my phone out of my pocket. Hell, even leave my phone on my desk, and can walk around the house/office and know what's going on still.

Smart watches extend the glanceable paradigm further than we could have guessed. There's no need to pull the handset out to check if you got that SMS, or find the time, or get basic weather.

There's much to be improved on these, and I hope to see Samsung and maybe Apple really bring these to the next level, but I strongly feel the concept is more or less world changing. If everyone won't carry a smart watch, maybe even simpler devices, or other types of remote and monitoring devices. All connected to your mobile, and your cloud where all your information lives now.

4 comments:

shoobe01 said...

I have already been reminded of the Casio calculator watches, and I guess should mention how crazy these got: http://pocketcalculatorshow.com/nerdwatch/seiko-computer-watch-fun/

This also might speak to the way that I am disappointed with technology. Because I saw so much back in primary school. I got to play with the Aspen Movie Map in grade school, and similarly in Junior High a guy I knew had a watch with a touchscreen.

He got it secondhand or something, so had no manual or anything so he accidentally discovered you could draw on the screen. Numbers and symbols (e.g. 7 + 4) and when you draw "=" it shows the result on the screen. Presumable one of these:

http://pocketcalculatorshow.com/nerdwatch/seiko-computer-watch-fun/

Without the manual and cable.

Colin English said...

I love the use of "remote" to describe a smartwatch. It's how I see my Pebble with my Nexus 4. I leave the phone in my pocket or bag, and the Pebble gives me notifications of texts, emails, phone calls, etc, all of which I can choose to deal with later. Words with Friends notifications take priority, of course :-)

Colin English said...

I love the use of "remote" to describe a smartwatch. It's how I see my Pebble with my Nexus 4. I leave the phone in my pocket or bag, and the Pebble gives me notifications of texts, emails, phone calls, etc, all of which I can choose to deal with later. Words with Friends notifications take priority, of course :-)

shoobe01 said...

Now if only it was possible for the Pebble to let you file/delete emails and dismiss reminders from beeping on other platforms.

And I wish they'd change the shake from backlight to "dismiss this message." When biking, it would be nice to do that instead of crossing my hands to press a button.