I was an early backer of the Pebble smartwatch – well before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon – and the recent update to both watch and app have only made my early adoption decision a more solid choice in hindsight. There’s four significant reasons as of this week why the Pebble continues to be the perfect smartwatch for me, regardless of what existing smartwatches – including the oft-rumored Apple iWatch – decide to cram into their products.
1. iOS Notifications – Turbocharged
With the recent update, the Pebble went from good to great in regards to the notifications you receive on your iPhone, and granular control over how and when they’re delivered to you. Previously, you could recieve basic notifications on iOS – phone calls, text messages and email (by configuring the Pebble iOS app to both monitor your email accounts directly, and provide the notifications via the app itself, assuming you left the app running), but a paltry selection compared to the vast notifications available on the much more hackable Android platform. As of the recent update, however, any app or function that leverages the updated iOS 7 Notification Center framework can send your Pebble a notification simply by assuring that the ‘Banner’ style of alert is set for it in Preferences > Notifications. This is a huge step up for Pebble’s iOS support- and puts the Pebble on par for iOS devices to the support Android’s seen for months.
2. Bluetooth LE support – Longer Run Times
In iOS 7, Apple significantly opened up their Bluetooth stack to developers, giving Pebble the ability to access the low-power Bluetooth LE protocol, resulting in a much lower drain on your battery, longer runtimes and more efficient background processing with or without the iOS Pebble app running. Aside from more svelte, power-savvy notifications and background processes, this also allows other third-party integrations like RunKeeper to use the lower power connection and optimize battery time for all, which is a huge win for iOS. This will open up much more interest in hardware integration between the Pebble and third-party devices – a disappointment in the original release, I’ll admit – as now more verbose connections can be established and maintained without sucking your battery dry, making it a much more lucrative development platform.
3. Low-power ‘e-Paper’ LCD display
When I first backed the Pebble, I honestly felt that the black and white ‘e-Paper’ LCD display would be a limitation, given the rich, colorful, pixel-dense displays on most all modern mobile devices it would be attached to. However in practice, I’m finding the LCD more of a benefit than a curse. First, it’s extremely thrifty in power consumption related to high-DPI color displays, and maintains a rather high pixel density- not your grandfather’s Casio-style LCD by a long shot. Having a longer stretch between charges is a huge benefit. Secondly, given the increased notifications I’m receiving now, I’m not sure I’d want the full, bright color display of the rumored iWatch or the Samsung Galaxy Gear flashing on so frequently day-to-day in meetings, conversations, and other interactions I’m in during the day. By contrast, the Pebble LCD display is relatively unobtrusive and stealthy, and gives just the information I need to quickly respond to or dispatch the notification. The music player and RunKeeper app would probably benefit visually from color and pixel depth, but realistically I spend very little time looking at the screen and often just reach across and hit a button after a quick glance. I’d rather keep the screen simple and battery-conscious, and you’ll likely find the same to be true.
4. Accelerometer support for apps
Developers can now access the built-in Pebble watch accelerometer directly with watch faces and apps. Formerly it was really only handy for shaking the screen backlight on, at least on iOS. But now the Pebble has the potential to track steps, control interfaces and hardware, track your hand position and orientation, and much more. Early developer hacks are impressive, and will only continue to push the envelope of how a wrist-based, always-on accelerometer can be leveraged day to day. This will significantly broaden the range of apps that can be built for the Pebble, and control you can have to software and hardware from your wrist. I’ll simply leave you with this Vine of a recent Pebble quadcopter controller built by an early SDK hacker, and drop my mic on the floor. Seriously cool stuff, and at minimum, just another great reason to consider jumping on board the Pebble train today.