I’m not a watch person, but a few weeks ago I ended up buying a Pebble.
It was an unusual kind of impulse buy, inspired partly by a story I was writing about the future of smartwatches, and partly by curiosity. If smartwatches are going to be as big of a product category as the tech world expects, I wanted to get some experience with smartwatches in their current state.
So far, my prevailing feeling about Pebble is “meh.” Regardless of whether a smartphone revolution is coming, the Pebble has not become indispensable for me. Some days I wear it, some days I don’t, and the decision tends to be arbitrary. That’s because Pebble doesn’t do everything that I want it to do. Or in some cases, getting it to do what I want takes considerable extra effort.
Pebble’s current limitations aren’t hardware-related — I don’t find myself yearning for Samsung’s $300 Galaxy Gear – but have everything to do with software. With that in mind, here are a few things that Pebble could do to make its smartwatch more of an essential tool:
More Useful Watch Faces
Being able to switch between watch faces on the Pebble is a currently a cosmetic feature, not a practical one. You can have an analog clock, a digital clock, a clock that uses words, a clock that uses symbols and a clock that’s seemingly powered by Mario. But they all do the same thing.
What I’d really like from Pebble are watch faces that serve different purposes. Let’s see one that tracks sports scores, one that updates my Fantasy Football score, one that shows the weather forecast and one that acts as a news ticker. These should be separate from Pebble’s third-party apps. The clever thing about watch faces in Pebble is how you can switch between them with the press of a button, and it’d be even smarter if you could switch between types of information this way.
While we’re at it, I’d love a dashboard-style watch face that gives you a count of unread e-mails, text messages, social media mentions and missed calls. You can already make your own watch face with these features using Canvas for Pebble, or just use the third-party app Glance, but neither is ideal. A full dashboard watch face should come standard, with no complicated setup required.
Granular Notification Controls
Currently, Pebble can vibrate and light up when you get an e-mail, text message, phone call or Facebook update. But for some reason, you can’t fine-tune the watch’s behavior for each type of notification. Because I get so many e-mails, vibrating notifications would leave my hand in a constantly twitchy state. Why not let me control which apps trigger the vibration on my Pebble?
E-Mail Deletion and Text Auto-Response
Out of all the e-mails I receive, I’d say about half of them can be deleted on sight. (I get the same worthless “expert” pitches that my colleague Harry McCracken does.) Pebble should provide a way to delete these e-mails straight from the watch–say, by holding down the back button–so I wouldn’t have to see them again when I turn on my phone.
And while I don’t expect to write full text messages from Pebble, it’d be nice to answer incoming messages with a few canned responses, such as “sounds good,” or “can’t talk, what’s up?”
There are things I do like about the Pebble. I like glancing at a text or e-mail to determine its importance, and controlling my phone’s music playback in the car without taking my eyes off the road. The third-party app Pebble Notifier is helpful for extending notifications to more apps, such as Twitter. Using the “Trusted Devices” feature on the Moto X, I can unlock my phone without a PIN whenever the Pebble is paired via Bluetooth. That’s awesome.
I just wish my Pebble did more. It’s early days for the product, which only launched at retail in July, but with a few good updates, I could imagine it becoming permanently affixed to my wrist.