A couple of weeks ago, I caved in and splashed out on a Pebble – the gadget that is widely believed to the be the first credible smartwatch. And though I’m perhaps late to the hype on this, and though the Pebble is an imperfect device, it is very easy to see why smartwatches are the future.
The Pebble is underpowered compared to its competitors: primarily the Samsung Gear 2 and Sony’s Smartwatch. Rather than try to pack in a colour screen, it runs from a Kindle-style e-ink display and overloads much of the complex stuff to your phone – remaining constantly connected to it via low-energy bluetooth. And as a result of this – it only needs charging once every few days, rather than nightly. Perfect.
The benefit is pretty immediate and feels rather space-age. Now all notifications that go through to my phone also pop-up on my wrist, allowing me at a glance to decide whether its worth picking up my phone or computer to respond. It’s particularly useful during tasks where my hands are otherwise occupied – like when doing the washing up or helping deliver a baby cow (admittedly this latter scenario hasn’t occurred yet). Similarly during meetings its a good way of keeping track of what’s going on, without committing the social faux-pas of pulling out your phone and looking visibly bored with what’s going on in the room.
The real power too comes from apps – the ability for the Pebble to feed back to functions on the phone and use the phone’s internet connection to access web services. One of the best uses of this I’ve seen include a UK Transport app, which can be used to check train times. On going into the app on your watch, it will use your phone’s GPS to locate you, find the nearest station and then display the departure times right on your wrist. Brilliant!
Similarly, what’s useful with the Pebble is that it is integrated fully with iOS’s music playback functionality. This means that even if your phone is plugged into the iPod-dock on the other side of the room, you can still pause and skip tracks – simply by tapping a button on your wrist.
What’s clear to me is even this short time is that smartwatches are going to be the Next Big Thing. Perhaps not as essential as a phone – but everyone is going to want one. When Apple get serious and announce the iWatch, it’ll fire the starting gun on the real smartwatch race – and we’ll quickly see the Gear and iWatch battle it out for app support. And both will have Pebble to thank. It’s only because Pebble has been public and in development for so long that there’s an appetite amongst earlier adopters for devices from big players. Because they can more easily imagine what is possible.
The sad thing might be though that the other players launching into the market might end up killing Pebble. Though they have first mover advantage, Apple and Samsung’s pockets are much deeper – and their watches will have many more features. Let’s hope one of them takes mercy on little Pebble and buys them, to reward the pioneering work.