Pebble is doing to SmartWatches what Apple did to Tablets. Apple isn’t.
We live in exciting times for technology. Not just now, but rather since the iPod, where stuff you saw in sci-fi movies was starting to be tangible and possible. Sure, Back to the Future II didn’t get everything right for 2015, but it’s still undeniable that the times we live in keep surprising us, with even realistic cases of Virtual Reality being displayed.
SmartWatches are one of these technological milestones being broken at the moment and 2015 is the sophomore year of this technology, which still has a lot to prove. SmartWatches undeniably remind us of James Bond movies, from which we are still a couple of years away. Still, there’s an established market for them and the first step forward has been taken, namely to justify such technology. About six or seven years ago I remember having a shower thought on watches and how dumb they were, compared to smartphones or computers. Those were the times of Windows Mobile and Symbian and still, compared to those, watches were incapable of doing more than being shock-resistant, giving you the time and waking you up. Still, technology took a couple of years to keep up with the times (pun intended), with Pebble being the pioneer, with a rather simple, but bold approach.
Three years have since gone by. Android Wear came along and made SmartWatches stylish and colorful, but still trying to fit a smartphone in your pocket. Apple, as only Apple can do, waited to step in until 2014, when they announced the Apple Watch. This is where things get interesting: the Apple Watch will mostly work like its Google counterparts. Sure, the fitness features will work in a stable fashion (my Moto360 always thinks that I am either dead or running a marathon) and the thing looks good (my Moto360 does, too). I spent the last six months expecting Apple to do their automagic thingy, with every superlative word coming into play, especially with regards to battery life and usability.
Here’s where I go back to the original iPad. Tablets were chunky, ugly and unusable. Microsoft, HP, they tried. Tablets took minutes to boot up, touchscreen technology just plain sucked… It was just wrong. Apple did the unthinkable and, instead of shrinking their desktop technology, they gave their mobile technology steroids and maintained instant boot times while keeping the battery running for a couple of days of standard use. It was nigh unthinkable, but it got to the point where I completely replaced my personal computer with an iPad. It was the way to go, Apple again revolutionized an industry and everybody needed to play catch-up.
Strangely, with SmartWatches, Apple is the one playing catch-up, on a rather failed premise. The feeling is, that they felt pressure to get into this market before it became over saturated and just hammered something out of their R&D lab. Smartphone in your pocket: check. Fitness tracking: check. Bloated AppStore: check check check. A wearable device with under a day of battery life…. Are they screwing with us? Sure, the thing will sell like wildfire, but I was really hoping that they would use their gazillion dollars to make something fresh, revolutionary, innovative. It’s fun writing a post, dissing Apple for behaving like Microsoft, but I truly do it with a heavy heart, simply because I wanted to be amazed by the wonders that graced my eyes. As it did with the iPhone, the iPad and many products before that. Where is the multitouch or the click-wheel of the Apple Watch… A digital crown, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?
In comes Pebble. After all big-namers tried their own experiments, a couple of guys in Palo Alto were hidden in their Batcave cooking something up. First, the first generation Pebbles, even the Steel, looked like shit. They were neither a good-looking watch nor a stylish tech-product. The Pebble Time Steel is beautiful! Then there was the thing with the monochrome screen which, while it didn’t bother much on a watch, was a little too 90’s to pass as a tech-product. Pebble went to great lengths to find somebody in Asia who did color e-paper right. It maintained the amazing battery life, but made the UI much friendlier on the eyes. But what they really did, which only confirms this post’s title as the absolute truth, is that they re-invented the operating system for SmartWatches.
Pebble asked themselves the question that Apple asked itself before they released the original iPhone: what is wrong with this market and what can be the only, not the maybe right approach? Pebble actually figured out that a watch is a time-keeping device. You use your phone to communicate, your computer to work and your watch to keep time. What was missing from time-keepers? Well, more information on time. What needs to be done in the future, what did you forget in the past and what you need right now! They figured it out: Pebble’s Timeline feature does exactly that. While you still get meaningful notifications from messages and what not, the important thing in the watch is that everything is time-based and can be activated when it makes most sense to you. I am still to experiment this myself, since Pebble will release the Pebble Time in May (and I will wait until July, when the Time Steel comes out), but I see a great future for this concept. It may be the first time, that a SmartWatch makes sense as an additional investment to your smartphone.