My Problem with Pebble: It’s Still Too Much Work

Pebble's new apps are no easier to reach than the phone in your pocket.

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Jared Newman for TIME

I recently started using my Pebble smartwatch again after a few months’ hiatus. With the recent launch of the Pebble Appstore for iOS (and Android, in beta), it seemed like a good time to give the watch another try.

So far, my experience hasn’t improved much. Smartwatches should be time-savers, cutting down the number of times we dig into our pockets for our smartphones, but using Pebble in its current state is still more of a hassle.

I was hoping that with version 2.0, Pebble would change the way you access your apps, but it’s still the same backwards system as before: To cycle through watchfaces, you just press the up or down buttons on the side of the watch. That’s simple. To launch an app, you must press the middle button, press the down button five times to cycle through various settings menus (one of which is a redundant watchfaces menu), then keep pressing until you find the app you want, then press the middle button again.

Why isn’t it the other way around? Once I’ve picked a style of clock I like, I’m going to stick with it for a while. I don’t need instant access to a bunch other watchfaces that all serve the same basic purpose. What I really need is faster access to apps like ESPN, so I can glance at the scores instantly. If I could cycle through these apps with the same ease that I could cycle through watchfaces, it’d save a lot of time. (I realize some apps make use of the up and down buttons, so how about letting you cycle through apps by pressing the back button first, or holding it while pressing up or down? There’s got to be a way to make it work.)

For some apps, I’d rather not have to manually open them at all. Being able to buy Starbucks coffee with PebbleBucks is nice, but it’d be better if the app popped up automatically so I could pay without having to press a bunch of buttons first. Same goes with Foursquare; instead of making me open the app to check in, it should just present that option automatically after I’ve been sitting in the restaurant for a few minutes.

Pressing some buttons isn’t a huge burden, but neither is taking my phone out of my pocket. And once I’ve done that, I have access to everything, not just the snippets of information that Pebble provides. The only way Pebble erases that advantage is by providing near-instant access to information or basic functions. Right now, it’s far too slow.

Despite my grumpiness about Pebble’s current state, I’m not entirely disappointed with the purchase. I enjoy using Pebble to control my phone’s music playback in the car without taking my eyes off the road. And if I could be more committed to exercising, I’d probably love having apps like GymSets and Runkeeper. Even as a geeky-looking timepiece with notifications, $150 isn’t a lot to pay, so I don’t feel like I’ve been duped.

But overall, the time I’ve spent fiddling with Pebble in search of ways to make it more useful far outweighs the time I’ve saved, which seems to defeat the purpose. Until Pebble removes the barriers between me and its apps, I can’t see myself feeling naked without it.

8 comments
Pete716
Pete716

My wife who is the least tech savvy person I know loves her Pebble. Not sure why a tech writer is having so many issues. 

sethpetersen
sethpetersen

Well said. And, I love the idea about using the back button to cycle apps.   While the menu could be cleaned up, I'd love to see pebble launch from with the the iOS app to let users create their own navigation. 


However, I disagree with the following comment, "For some apps, I’d rather not have to manually open them at all."  In order to preserve some battery life, I'd prefer that I call up the app so that isn't constantly checking.  


Where I think apps truly lack is that the Pebble App needs to be running all the time. If the app is closed, I can't access foursquare, I'm required to pull out the phone to open the app just to access foursquare on my watch. I'd also like to see the PebbleBucks app stay signed in. This is another scenario where I'm forced to use my phone to login to see my balance. It's these instances where the watch apps don't save time.

jsmithee
jsmithee

The biggest "time saver" that Pebble offers is the ability to triage your notifications right from your wrist. This is the watch's PRIMARY purpose and I find it odd that you didn't even mention this in your little rant. 


Sure it only takes a second or two to pull our your phone when it vibrates, but it takes a fraction of that time to glance down at your wrist. Multiply that action by a hundred notifications per day, and thousands of notifications per week and you have just saved hours your might otherwise have spent staring at your phone. 


This isn't even touching on how useful the Pebble can be in situations where you can't feasibly pull out your phone, such as when driving or in meetings. In those situations Pebble can keep you connected to urgent and in some cases life-saving notifications you might otherwise have postponed. 

RoyShastid
RoyShastid

what's next ?  A web cam for your anus ?