The Pebble Watch

29/12/2014
Pebble watches in different  colours

Pebble watches in different colours

I’d been looking at the Pebble Watch for a while after buying one as a gift for a friend. It had been available in the retail channel in the UK for a couple of months. After receiving mine for Christmas, I set about writing an App for it to function as a Rugby timer and scorekeeper.

I’m pretty impressed with the watch overall. If you have a program like this that is useful to you, it’s going to be worth having for that alone. Other watches might be prettier and offer more functions, but (I’m pretty sure) that most are limited to working with one watch OS alone. Android watches need an Android phone, and so far, I think the Pebble is the only watch to work with iOS. It’s not sold in the Apple store of course, it’s a competitor to the forthcoming Apple Watch, but they will continue to hit different markets as the Apple Watch is likely to be at least twice the price of the Pebble.

The watch is unpretentious. It doesn’t claim to be the most powerful or best smart watch out there. It has a mono screen, not colour like most of the others, so it’s not flashy at all. What that gives the watch though, is an advantage in terms of battery life. They claim 5-7 days in normal use. You charge it using a magnetic cable that takes power from a USB port, so you can charge from your computer or a wall adapter, and it only takes a couple of hours for a full charge.

It’s an “e-ink” display, this is the sort that doesn’t really take any power if it doesn’t change. So, if your watch face changes every second as opposed to every minute, then it will drain the battery a bit faster.

Watch face with weather display

Watch face with weather display

My favourite watch face is a simple watch with the day and date as well as an outside temperature reading. This of course, comes from a data service that comes via the internet. Like all smart watches, access to the internet is via your phone – connected via Bluetooth – so, if your phone isn’t available these sources of data (there’s also some selectable watch faces with news and so on,) are not available either.

This watch face also shows your current location, there are others that even show a little map on the display.

Hardware wise, the watch has an accelerometer and compass, so can function as a basic fitness tracker, there are apps for that too. An impressive compass display is another. It has standard Bluetooth and Bluetooth SMART, so this probably helps the battery life somewhat. I’m not sure what data is transmitted via Bluetooth SMART, but it would make sense for things like the temperature data to go via Bluetooth SMART. It’s fully water-resistant too – that’ll be handy for those rainy Saturday afternoons on the touchline!

Built in is a music controller (AVRCP) so you can play/pause forward/reverse music on your phone.

Rugby timer & scorekeeper app

Rugby timer & scorekeeper app

Watch faces and apps are downloadable from the ‘Pebble Store’. At the moment, all of the apps are free, so you can download what you like, but a few developers use what are called ‘companion apps’ which the watch app will require to operate. They then charge for these apps via Google Play or Apple’s App Store, so they get paid that way. That said, most are free. Up to eight apps and faces can be stored in the watch, a ‘locker’ in your phone is used as an overflow for others, so they are quickly available to you. Watch faces range from digital displays with big numbers, words and analogue displays.

I got the basic watch, there are two models, the Pebble Watch (£99) and the Steel (£179). The Pebble Watch is a clunky looking, plastic affair available in different colours – most will opt for black like me, I would imagine. The Steel is a more robust looking and probably more conventional looking watch. The standard watch comes with a rubber strap, which I quickly replaced with a leather watch strap from my local jeweller. I got a decent quality Hirsch strap, but any 22mm strap or bracelet will work. The steel has a non-standard fitting, so you’ll need to buy a strap or bracelet designed for that watch.

For developers, the development tools are very straightforward. You don’t even need to install anything on your computer, you can develop and compile using ‘C’ via CloudPebble – an online development portal. Publishing a finished app is simple too, your app goes straight into the store. By comparison, iOS development is much more complex and the approval process to get into the store is much more long-winded. But then, Pebble is a simpler concept from the start. You can install a compiler onto your computer if you want to be able to develop off-line, OS X, Linux and Windows are all supported.

Pros and cons? Well, price, battery life, simplicity and iOS compatibility are things this watch have going for it. Lack of a colour display and possibly the clunky looks might be things that will put you off.

When the Apple Watch arrives, this might change things, but we will see. Apple have done some really clever things with the watch bracelets and straps, making them easily interchangeable without tools. In all the years the jewellery industry have been making watches, they haven’t done anything as clever as Apple have with their straps! Apple Watch might be a game changer, but I’ll still be using my Pebble as a rugby timer on Saturdays at least, I’m sure.

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Pebble Development – a first App

26/12/2014

So, for Christmas I received a Pebble Watch. I looked at the SDK for this and there’s a quite comprehensive development system with event driven functions as well as all the normal ‘C’ type functions.

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Pebble display when the App starts.

Shooting rugby most weekends, and writing reports, I often struggle to keep track of the score, elapsed time and cards, so an obvious app for me is one to do that for me. So, I set to developing just such an App for the Pebble watch.

When the App starts, it’s ready to go for kick-off. The clock is set at 40 minutes. The three buttons Up, Select and Down have different functions during the program use, indicated by the selected part of the display. Press the Select button to select the three different areas of the display (the very top always shows the current time of day).

The first section is the match time, with the display showing the elapsed time and the remaining time in the match half. Press the Up button for time off and on, indicated by X and o in the right-hand part of the display. The watch vibrates when the clock runs out. A long press on the Up button restarts the timer from 40 minutes – use this when the second half starts.

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Match underway, with one card in progress.

Press Select and you move to the Cards section. Press the Up button to add a card timer. Up to six cards can be added, with the watch vibrating each time a card expires. Hopefully six cards will be enough!

Press Select again, and you get to the scoring section. Press Up to increment the Home score, and Down to increment the Away score. Press and hold the relevant Up or Down button to decrement the scores in case a score was added by mistake.

Finally, press Select once more to return to the timer control mode.

My first attempt at a Pebble watch App. I guess it could look a but prettier, but it’s functional! You can see it here.

Update :

I’ve updated the program a little with some ‘hints’ on screen, and various other improvements.

December 2014, Simon Taylor