Using Pebble

Experiences and Opportunities

I'm in the shower, reading incoming text messages. I'm cycling downhill to the beach, skipping between tracks without taking my eye off the road. I'm at dinner, I glance at the incoming call on my wrist, it's not important. I don't even break conversation.

I've been using Pebble for about a month now. It's been a daily enhancement to my social and working life, but it's also become a bit of an eye opener. It's making me think about all kinds of potential interactions using just a tiny screen and three buttons. The potential is huge.

Let's be clear here, Pebble is a small enhancement to your lifestyle. It's not going to enable you do anything you couldn't do anything before, it's not the same as buying a new gadget. But that's the core strength of Pebble. It's a very dumb screen that communicates with a very smart phone, which means it's possibilities are as limitless as the depth of the app store you have available in your pocket.

I've found using Pebble to be surprisingly intuitive. It's a new method of interaction that's come naturally, thanks in part to the vibration motor. I've never reached for my phone before glancing at my wrist whilst receiving an incoming call.

At this moment there are a limited amount of smartphone apps that interact with Pebble. The bundled Pebble music app is simple, each of the three buttons is analogous to the previous, next, and pause controls you'll find when you double tap the lock screen on iOS. This means you can control any app playing sound in the background. This quickly became the only way I would want to interact with music. I've started using a docked iPhone as a music centre at home more because I can control it from any room without breaking my current activity. All that's missing are volume controls, which I'm told are incoming.

The first iOS app to be released that integrates completely with Pebble is RunKeeper. As you'd expect from a fitness app, it offers a live display of your run statistics along with controls to pause the tracking when you stop to stretch. I can't imagine having to check a low-contrast phone display to clock your pace. The E-ink display is perfect for this use case. Let's compare this Pebble-and-app combo to a fully fledged GPS enabled,wifi enabled, running watch. There's no reason to buy a gadget with expensive parts that you already own in another device when you could just buy the screen that talks to those expensive parts.

I find myself having two methods of interaction through Pebble. The first is no interaction at all. There are certain apps that primarily offer a one way stream of communication with no user action required. Their usefulness is increased by having their notifications pushed to my wrist. Dark Sky notifies me when it's about to rain in my current location. Live Score Addict notifies me when important events happen in Premier League football matches. You look like a bit of a wizard if you quickly check your wrist and exclaim “Arsenal have scored” or suddenly pop out your umbrella.

This has got me thinking. Which services can benefit from this one-way stream of communication? I've been imagining a walking directions app that pushes the next instruction to your wrist based on your GPS location. How about an app that notifies you when your train is running late? Or an app that sends a vibration when you're speeding in an area with speed cameras. You don't need to interact with it, just receive the information and carry on.

The other method of interaction is almost as limited. There are three buttons available for apps to use and that's by design. Three hardware buttons, three actions. I don't even look down, I know where the buttons are and what they're going to do. The music app is a great example of this.

I think we're going to see the same mentality we started seeing once the iPhone was released, if it's possible for me to do the same task on a smaller screen, I would rather do it there compared to a less convenient device.

Imagine standing on the underground whilst flicking through my recently arrived emails, archiving the unimportant ones. I'd love an app where you go over your todo list for the day, each button corresponding to an action on that item. How about an that app that gives you just the headlines of new from the day? How many times have you clicked through to read a news article which could of been summed up in sentence or two? I'd learn to love an app which forces me to take just enough information and move on with my day.

We're in early adopters territory right now, we get to see all the production issues and mistaken assumptions but we also get to witness the birth of a new class of device, with the ability to mould the shape of things to come.

We also have the opportunity to take this potential in directions we could never of imagined a year ago.

Let's start making.