Pebble: How it all started

In April 2012 an interesting project launched on the crowd funding platform Kickstarter: Eric Migicovsky and his company Pebble Technology were looking for $100,000 in order to finance the design and mass production of Pebble, the first watch built for the 21st century. The concept video showcased an e-paper watch that communicated with your smartphone through Bluetooth, which opened the door to endless possibilities: control your music while keeping your phone in your pocket, discretely read text messages on your wrist, monitor your distance and speed while running, switch your watchface to match your outfit, and so on.

On top of that the Pebble was promised a backlight, a 3-axis accelerometer, a vibrating motor, four buttons and a battery that would last for at least a week. All of this was offered in black, white, red and one color to be decided by the Kickstarter backers. 200 early birds could get one for just $99, the rest had to pledge $115 for the plain black version.

Apparently Pebble had filled a need that, up till then, people didn't know they had. The campaign was an instant success and closed at $10,266,845, way higher than the $100,000 they had aimed for and the first Kickstarter campaign to break the 10 million dollar limit.

Because of the tremendous success even more features were added: the less power consuming Bluetooth 4.0 was supported and the Pebble would even be water resistant, so you could go for a swim and read your text messages while in the water. There were also some less pleasant consequences as it was obvious that their first delivery estimation (September 2012) would be nearly impossible to realize, having to produce more than 80,000 watches. 

So as the Kickstarter campaign ended on May 18, 2012, the countdown could begin.

Pebble: finally on my wrist

Fast-forward to the CES 2013 conference on January 9, where CEO Eric Migicovsky could finally announce that the first Pebbles would start shipping at the end of the month. They had been keeping us excited with frequent updates on the design and production process and now the smartwatch was finally finding its way to our wrists. A couple of weeks ago it found its way to mine, so I can finally check if it lives up to my expectations.

The Pebble arrived in a nice flat box, containing only the watch itself and a charging cable: USB on one side and a proprietary magnetic end on the other. A standard micro-USB port could probably not be reconciled with being water proof, so keep in mind that you don't want to lose this cable. The battery does seem to last about a week though, so you shouldn't have to carry this cable around anyway.

As for the design, I was pleasantly surprised. The Pebble is not too large for normal wrists and has a nice, clean look that is discrete enough for most occasions. You could always replace the wrist band for something colorful to spice things up a little.

The e-paper screen could have been a bit sharper, but it gets the job done and is readable under most circumstances. The backlight can be turned on with a press on a button or a flick of the wrist and provides just enough light to comfortably use it in darker rooms.

Pebble on my wrist
Credit: BrechtVds

Pebble: just a gadget?

So the Pebble does look nice, but what can you do with it? Well, at the moment it is still a bit disappointing. There are about 10 different watchfaces, that change the way the time is displayed, but you will probably just try them all once and settle on the one you like best.

Then there are the notifications: you can set up your iPhone or Android to pass the notifications onto your watch, which will vibrate and display the text message, email or other notification that you just received. I was only able to test it with an iPhone and there still seem to be some issues with email notifications. Text messages do work flawlessly though and really are useful in my opinion. You can just take a glance at your watch and decide if it really is necessary to respond without having to interrupt what you're doing to get your phone out of your pockets.

And finally there's the music application which lets you control you music from your watch. This can also come in quite handy in some occasions, but is definitely nothing game-changing.

So I am not really impressed at the moment but there is a lot of potential and the device has only just launched: Eric and his team are still focussing on getting all Pebbles out the door and are working on improving the SDK at the same time.

Regular software updates are promised and should gradually add all features that were promised. Once developers can get their hands on a feature-complete SDK some really amazing apps should start rolling out the door and the watch won't be limited to mere notifications and music-playing.

Pebble: the conclusion?

The Kickstarter campaign promised a watch built for the 21st century and that is indeed what they delivered. A nice e-paper screen, great battery time and being able to read your text messages while snorkeling are great features in these modern times.

We are just at the beginning though, and there is still tons of unfulfilled potential. We will have to wait for developers to get a complete toolkit available and see if they will commit to the platform and provide us with a bunch of impressive apps.

Until then the Pebble is still an enjoyable gadget, but nothing more than that.