On the Pebble Steel and the wearables market in general – Dated July 26rd, 2014

pebblesteel

I’ve never put a date on a blog post title before, but I expect to look back on this post 5 years from now and laugh at how much I got right or how much I got wrong, either way, I do believe 100% that we are in the very beginnings of a very exciting time, as were the words of Tank in the Matrix when talking about Neo.

On killer “use cases”

About two weeks ago, we hosted a hackathon at Seedcamp on life-logging, and explored different ways people could quantify their lives either through apps directly (using the hardware on your phone to track, ala ‘Moves’) or wearables hardware that is tracking and providing information in a way that can feedback into an app (Android Wear, Pebble, Fitbit, Jawbone, Shine, etc).

My conclusion after the event is that we still don’t know how this sector will play out and what the ‘killer use case’ will be for the mass market.

However, if I take myself as an early adopter, I can clearly say that I’ve found ‘a’ killer use case’ which is to migrate notifications off the phone screen and onto my wrist, the way a watch moved time from the pocket watch to the wrist. 

This transition from phone to wrist alone has been quite liberating allowing me to have my phone charging in a different room and never lose track of messages (FB, Whatsapp, Telegram, SMS, calendars, etc) or calls during the time it is charging. Socially, it also allows me to leave my phone unattended because I don’t need to worry that I will not hear the call or message or feel the vibration amidst the noise of wherever I may be. Lastly, viewing messages is less disruptive and far faster than taking phone out of pocket, typing in unlock code, swiping and going into the app with the actual message. 

As such, I believe while we still have a lot of room for improvement, wearables will slowly become part of our passive consciousness (you feel notifications and react by type) vs. the current active engagement model (people in a room all looking at their phone).

So what about the current crop of devices? 

Well.. lets start with what I have.. a Pebble Steel

On my wrist, I currently have a Pebble Steel. I love it. Why do I love it?

1) It has a good enough battery life of 5-7 days (arguably ‘amazing’ relative to its competitors 1-2 days)
2) It is visible in every condition, bright sunlight or night.
3) It is simple & doesn’t try to be a gadget-laden watch with everything in it and failing at all.
4) It relies on hardware buttons to take input. This is important because you can take action without looking at the screen (you memorize what buttons do what and you can turn off an alarm or reject a call without having to touch the right part of the screen).
5) It has a rich ecosystem of apps – although some of the apps are completely over-extending what I think smartwatches should be/do.
6) It is ‘rugged’ – you can actually swim with it and get it dirty in a way that the current generation of competitors cannot.

As for Android Wear devices, for sure the Moto360 looks amazing, but it’s just ‘too much’. I don’t want poor battery life or to have to talk to ANY of my gadgets (I can’t imagine giving my watch commands in the notoriously quiet of conversation British public transportation system, for example. awkward.)… I take that back, when they hit sentience, then ok I might (because we can have a chat or something), but until then, manual input over touch is preferred as is waterproofing that allows you to enjoy life!

What could improve?

Well…. for one, design will always be an evolution. On the hardware side, the Pebble Steel is not bad, but its non-standard strap connector is a nuisance, its asymmetrical logo placement is less the pretty, and its screen could improve its resolution so that curved fonts didn’t look pixelated (although its not ‘bad’, just not ‘great’). Any improvements in battery life would be appreciated, but frankly, charging once a week or at worst every 5 days is no bother.

On tje software side, the Pebble App and App store could really use a speed bump when scrolling through apps, a better method of curation than just ‘search’ which usually shows very little, and better integration with the devices/apps it supports (although, can’t blame Pebble, it’s an iOS or Android issue).

How do I see this playing out in the future?

I see the major electronic hardware players (Apple/Samsung) coming out with some compelling products that track many things (health, other hardware bits, cars, etc) and provide you with quite a bit of data. However, I see the old-school Swiss manufacturers partnering with the likes of Pebble or other smartwatch platform to create an ecosystem of apps running on hardware that still allows a group of people to have the heirloom that the watch has become.

It is an exciting time indeed.

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