I wanted to write down my opinions on the Pebble (while it is still fresh in my mind) before my Apple Watch arrives. Although it is fairly critical, I tried to give suggestions on how to Pebble can improve the overall product.
I ordered the Pebble last October and took about 20 days to arrive. This was longer than I expected but most packages that are shipped free internationally (in this case from Singapore) often take a while. However this is not a good experience for customers as it sucks to wait 3 weeks just for shipping. From a sales perspective, reducing the shipment time can potentially pull in a customer who is deciding between two similar devices.
I know that it is costly to have distribution centers but one potential starting point (if they don’t have distribution centers already) is to use part of their existing offices. It would be very interesting to know how many customers are located in the Waterloo and Palo Alto region (where they currently have offices).
The box was well designed and definitely had a lot of thought went into it. For example, one of the sides included the supported devices. The text was carefully placed so that “Works with Android” was above “Made for iPhone”. When I imagined it placed the other way around, I read “Made for iPhone (but also) Works with Android”, which makes it sound as if Android support was an afterthought.
Opening the box was more difficult than it should have been. The lid was very stiff and it took a multiple shakes (and some physics) to get the bottom to slide out. It has been a while since I first did the unboxing so I don’t really remember the details of the inner packaging experience. However looking at the shaped cardboard (which was used to support the Pebble in the box) didn’t give a sense of quality and style. I know it’s probably not too worthwhile to spend a lot on packaging, but perhaps switching to a different method of packaging might be able to solve both hurdles.
I wore the Pebble daily about 90% of the time for almost 7 months. My primary use was just to check the time1. Receiving incoming notifications was also useful in some cases but I often fail to see them because I turned off vibrations (as will be explained later).
There are several ways that reading notifications can be better. One small annoyance I have is when scrolling through multiple notifications of varying lengths. When at a long notification, the first press would scroll that notification to the bottom, and then the second press would move on to the next. This creates a choppy experience and is mainly a limitation of the low screen resolution and lack of a precise input method like a touchscreen or crown. There are also bugs relating to determine the screen height required to display a given text because in some rare cases, although the entire notification can fit on a single screen, yet the software thinks it requires just a few extra pixels, leading to an extra button press.
I don’t use apps too often but the stopwatch app is quite useful. The basic functionality works very well because it is precise to start/pause the clock if my fingers can remain on a button rather than having to accurately tap on a phone. This is one area where having hardware buttons is an advantage because the usual 3 functionalities (start/stop, lap, reset)2 can each be assigned a button.
However, I think that a device which only has buttons as input methods will be severely limited in the functionality of apps. For example, there is no input method that allows for a continuous stream of data (aside from the accelerometer and compass), as a crown would provide. It also does not allow for dynamic and responsive actions as available on a touchscreen. This requires a convention on what each button does and is challenging to structure advanced apps without resorting to complicated navigational hierarchies.
I’ve noticed that iOS will prompt me to “Allow Pebble to communicate with…” dialogs every couple of days. This system dialog is very annoying because given the two options, clicking “Allow” switches me away from my current app into Pebble’s, but clicking “Cancel” disables many features such as music control. As far as I know there is no setting to always allow access. I’m pretty sure this is an iOS hassle and I doubt there would be any changes regarding this from Apple’s end (especially after they launched their own wearable).
I find the vibration too jarring, noisy, and sudden, as the device is strapped to my wrist, amplifying the effect. (I can even hear the Pebble bounce slightly when it vibrates on a desk.) It would be great if there was a ease in/out effect which might be able to be achieved with a software update. However, it’s possible that the Pebble does not support PWM motors or has other limitations that do not allow for this. Another solution is to decrease the speed and weight inside the vibrator to reduce the harsh vibration. And hopefully the Pebble Time will be more subtle in it’s notifications.
I know this post is pretty critical of the Pebble. However keep in mind that this device is roughly three year-old technology. Also iOS does not offer many integrations and this limits the features that a Pebble (or any non-Apple) smartwatch can offer. Nonetheless I’m very curious to see what new applications (and apps) will arise with Pebble Time’s “SmartStraps”.
1. David Smith's next native Watch app should be Check the Time.
2. It's also possible to get away using only 2 buttons.