Wearable Technology. Fitness trackers, smart watches, even products that monitor vital health statistics of babies while they are sleeping. We are clearly in the age of technology becoming intimately close and creating more, valuable information about our daily life.
While much has been written about the social, political and health elements of this new evolution of personal/mobile tech, it still comes down to the use case. Will wearing a fitness tracker help me improve my fitness? Will a smart watch make me more productive? How important is technology in safeguarding my family?
Keep these themes in mind when I share with you my experiences with the Pebble Steel smart watch (I’ll refer to it, going forward, as ‘the Pebble’). While the name may not yet have reached the dizzy heights of Casio and Seiko in terms of brand recognition, the Pebble will go down in history as a pioneer of the next wave of technology influencing our lives. Today, we’re on the cusp of the Wearable Technology era.
Google recently announced its Android Wear initiative at its annual Google I/O developer conference. Amongst several announcements, one of the main takeaways focused on better engagement with wearable tech, in turn, delivering improved lifestyles. And with IFA in Berlin announcing smart watches based on Android Wear from several well-known brands (Asus, LG, Sony, Motorola and Samsung), the Pebble now has a lot more company. Back to the Pebble, famously known for helping Kickstarter, kick-start (pun intended!) their reputation to help fund creative projects, the Pebble certainly captured the imagination of many for what they were looking for in a smart watch today. Their vision still remains fit-for-purpose despite the recent announcements at IFA.
Why do I say this? Having worn and used it for the best part of six months, this is my verdict. I get to swap out watch faces, select and match one with cufflinks worn that day. More importantly, it looks like a watch and not some odd piece of technology strapped onto my wrist (for example, the Moto 360 is significantly thicker drawing, potentially, the wrong kind of attention). A compelling feature is the e-ink display, which is easy to read, even in direct sunlight (OLED/LCD displays are usually rendered ineffectual in daylight; look at your smartphone screen and you will see why). The Pebble provides me with all sorts of information I need to know at a glance (time, date, day, weather forecast in my current location). But underneath its Corning© Gorilla© glass lies a daily companion who can keep up with you.
The lead feature, relaying notifications (via Bluetooth) from your Android or iOS smartphone, keeps you updated but does not get in the way of your daily routine. By far, this has been an important, and arguably, the most compelling reason for the Pebble. Today, an individual checks their phone, on average, 125 times a day (Google I/O 2014). That’s a lot of taking the phone out, unlocking it and swiping across the screen. With the Pebble, it will vibrate and subtly notify you of updates only you will notice. This ability to discreetly check the latest text from my family or a reminder of my next appointment during a meeting keeps me on track with my day. Social etiquette is preserved at social and work gatherings ensuring I am still engaged with the actual people I am with. No longer do I need to take my phone out and swipe a few times to check my notifications. It’s all there, on the Pebble, at a glance.
But there’s more! The relatively recent launch of a dedicated App store (on both Android and iOS) has a growing list of applications and watch faces to customise your Pebble. Applications range from games, productivity, fitness and more. Well-known brands are catered for (Yelp, Evernote, RunKeeper and more). A couple of decades ago, you would find standard features like a stopwatch, timer and alarm on most watches. Now, the choice is yours. Load up a game, a fitness app or perhaps an RSS feed. With capacity to load up to eight apps, you get to customise your Pebble to your choosing, suiting your lifestyle.
However, it’s additional, small details that seemingly offer the most value. For instance, the Pebble subtly notifying you are out of range from your phone. Now, I no longer worry I’ve left my smartphone behind. Storing short notes like grocery shopping lists making it easier to access, instead of fumbling with the phone scrolling down a list while negotiating turns of your part-full laden trolley in the local supermarket. Changing music tracks while working out at gym is another plus point. With Bluetooth headphones connected to my smartphone, I do not need to have the phone itself on me. Now I can leave it near me, in my gym bag, but continue to listen and change music tracks while I work out.
Any issues? Battery and charging. The Pebble is charged using a proprietary magnetic charging cable that attaches to the side of the Pebble. This means you need to keep this handy to charge up your Pebble. Ideally, other forms of charging, such as wireless charging pads, solar-based panels (such as Citizen’s Eco-Drive system) and even kinetic energy (often found in Seiko watches) would help to keep the Pebble charged for longer. Despite the use of E-ink technology, battery life is 3-4 days presently, but with improved firmware, this could increase to a few days more. Unlike the daily need to charge the smartphone, I’m glad I only need to charge the Pebble twice a week, but a monthly charge cycle would be ideal.
So, has the Pebble become my daily companion? In short, yes. I’m loving the increased productivity it’s delivered thus far. The price tag is comparable with other brand watches ($249 / ~£155). And while new smart watches have recently been announced at IFA, there hasn’t been anything compelling to make me choose a new smart watch over the Pebble. Daily charging still remains a deal breaker despite the rich functionality showcased by Android Wear. Therefore, at this time, the Pebble, being a relatively mature offering, continues to deliver the added benefits of productivity & flexibility complementing my lifestyle (not getting in the way of my usual routine) and that brings me huge value.