When smartwatches become commonplace
I spent my first night wearing my black Pebble watch at a local burger joint in Sarasota, Florida. Dressed casually, drinking a beer, and watching people go by in their questionable Florida clothes, Pebble felt at home on my wrist. Eating a greasy burger instantly warmed me to the beauty of wrist notifications, as I was able to see what was happening without touching anything with my greasy fingers. Messages, emails, Twitter and Facebook, Foursquare suggestions, calendar and reminders, (Snapchats - er), and just about everything else you can think of were there giving me information. All of these notifications were seamlessly sent to my wrist. As my wrist buzzed occasionally, I was able to continue eating and engaging with the people around me without feeling like I was missing anything. That's the beauty. Wearables have been gaining buzz for the past year and a half, and I'm expecting 2014 to be an even more innovative year for them.
My second day with Pebble brought me to a nicer restaurant. I typically pick a watch that goes best with my clothes, but to keep the functionality I was quickly growing fond of, I had only one choice. A nice button-up and an admittedly nerdy smart watch aren't necessarily the best match... but I went with it. I soon ignored the fashion disconnect, although deep down I wanted to throw it off and pick a different watch.
So here's the deal: I like watches. Some people don't really care to wear them, and they go in and out of style, but with the popularity of the smartphone, watches have become less common. However, Pebble and other smartwatches are forging a new path. A watch has two basic features: 1) telling the time (duh) and 2) being a fashion accessory. Now depending on your view of watches, which one of those features is more important may vary. I believe that watches are primarily fashion pieces, with a small (yet important) function. With the smartwatch, though, everything is backwards. Most smartwatches, like the Pebble, aren't beautiful like a Michael Kors watch would be, but they provide a huge functionality improvement. For companies looking to get into this market (ahem, Apple) it will be key to balance fashion for different occasions with that addictive functionality. Pebble is barely passable for certain occasions simply because of the way it looks.
Lets talk about Pebble's functionality
First, Pebble is a watch. Pebble is lightweight, slim, and has an always-on display that looks great in direct sunlight. In Indiana where a sunny day can be rare, this might not be a problem. But in sunny Florida this is essential. This is important because checking the time is, obviously, important. Unlike other smartwatches, Pebble's screen is always on and ready. The bezel and resolution can use some improving, but it still gets the job done. It has a waterproof design, interchangeable straps, a backlight, and lasts 5 to 7 days on a single charge. The hardware, while nice, will without a doubt be nothing compared to what Apple likely has in store. The Pebble team may even realize this as they've focused their entire efforts on developing a software and application platform to continue to increase Pebble's functionality. I'm excited to see what developers release in early 2014 when Pebble releases their app store for iOS and Android.
Notifications - Pebble will send you just about every notification you want to your wrist. If it buzzes you on your phone, you'll see it on your Pebble. This is truly helpful when your hands are full or you're busy, but it can be a little overwhelming when sitting on the couch or when you're currently on your phone. Still, the functionality is addictive. I think Pebble and other smartwatches have the opportunity to get people off of their phones and back to their social lives. Now I don't have to wonder whats happening or pull out my phone just to check.
Apps - Where Pebble and other smartwatches have the potential to really shine is in the software. Pebble includes multiple watch faces and apps from the start, and many are continuing to be developed. The music app lets you see whats playing on your phone, pause/play, and fast forward/rewind your music. Because Pebble is limited to three buttons, navigation to these apps and interacting with them is limited. Expect this to change with touchscreen enabled watches in the future. Third party apps like Runkeeper are already adding support for Pebble. Now, when I start my run, walk, or bike ride with Runkeeper, my Pebble adapts to display the total time, distance, and average pace of my activity. This happens seamlessly and is valuable information to have in each of those situations. This kind of functionality perfectly displays the potential of smartwatches. Other developers have created apps for displaying the weather, sports scores, navigation, and much more. However, the selection is still quite limited.
Is there a future for smart watches?
Yes. I often ask my friends what they think of the idea and many have mixed responses. However, there is an emerging interest in this new technology and once people get a taste of the value, I think they will be hooked. Wearables and smartwatches are still young though. Small Kickstarter successes and failed attempts (hey, Samsung) are just the beginning. We'll see entries from all of the big tech companies in the coming months (Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung's version after seeing what the others do). Incorporating Google Now and Siri will allow users to view valuable information quickly, without needing them to pull out their devices. Like the smartphone, the potential is limitless when you allow developers to create innovative experiences that enhance the hardware. I can't wait to see the apps and software that people create. However, there are many barriers to creating a truly common piece of wearable technology. The fashion, quality, software, and functionality need to be executed in a way that has never been done before in technology. Battery life in such a small footprint will be difficult as well, but if Pebble can do it, so can the big guys.
We're used to, especially as a result of Apple's insistence on limited choice, only a couple different styles of technology. Can this strategy work for a smartwatch? Perhaps Apple and others will release more than one watch for different needs. Does an active person want leather and glass? Does a businessman and tuxedo accept rubber and plastic? I don't think so. Luxury watches cost significantly more than the Pebble, so the potential for people to buy multiple smartwatches exists. The smartwatch functionality is what will draw people in, but as they become more common, fashion will return as a primary factor in what to put on your wrist. Maybe then I'll be able to wear a t-shirt and button up without feeling like such a nerd.
I've had my Pebble smartwatch for just a week and its been a welcome addition to my tech collection. While it's not perfect, Pebble manages to be everything a smartwatch needs to be. Do I recommend Pebble? The best answer is it depends. If you're not at least a little bit of a tech geek, I would recommend waiting to see what the big guys come up with in the coming year. Otherwise, if you're set on experiencing the value of a smartwatch, Pebble is the way to go. One thing is certain: 2014 is going to be an interesting year for wearable technology and I can't wait to see it unfold.
What do you think of smartwatches? Will you take the plunge when smartwatches become more advanced or is technology going too far by being with us every moment of our lives?