Friday, April 27, 2012

Is That Dick Tracy's Watch?

In a world where smartphones and even feature phones do everything from tell the time to the weather and your location, fewer and fewer people see the need for a watch. No surprise, then, that the global sale of watches has been steadily declining since 2005. But Eric Migicovsky and his team at Allerta may recently have changed all that. They’ve developed a watch reminiscent of Dick Tracy’s infamous two-way wrist radio that’s designed to be the best companion to your smartphone. It’s called the Pebble. You wear this attractive device just like a wristwatch and it connects by Bluetooth discreetly to your smartphone alerting you to incoming SMS, email, and phone alerts.

Other attempts at similar technologies in the past date back to 2004 when Microsoft introduced their Smart Watch, which retrieved weather, messages, reminders, and stock quotes. The watches transmitted over an unused portion of the FM radio band and users needed an MSN Direct subscription to download data. Well-known watch manufacturers Fossil, Tissot, and Swatch were involved in the production. The watches were discontinued in 2008.

More recently, other smart watches including the InPulse, the WiMM One, and I’m Watch have been reviewed, but as Chris Taylor explains in his recent Mashable article, “They were all powered by Android, or connected to Android smartphones only.  iPhone owners were out of luck until …the Pebble. It’s the first smart watch that can form a meaningful, long-lasting relationship with your iOS device, as well as Android.”

Besides being unique among smart watches because of its compatibility with iPhone and Android, Pebble has other noteworthy features. If your smartphone is lost in the sofa cushions or hiding in a junk drawer, you can use your Pebble to locate it. For those of us who’ve struggled with screen glare on sunny days, Pebble hosts a high resolution e-paper display that is readable outdoors. 

Pebble’s wrist-location makes it possible to glance at that text message or check to see who’s calling while still unpacking the groceries or holding onto your squirming toddler. It’s also water resistant. You can go swimming and run in the rain with it. And speaking of running, there are apps built in to the watch that allow you to track how many miles you’ve run (thanks to the built-in 3-axis accelerometer), control your phone’s music, and check the weather.

There’s also the Pebble watch app store, which will let you send watch-specific apps the company and third-party developers make to the watch. At its core, Pebble is a hands-free solution to determine why your pocket or purse is vibrating without having to dig out your phone. No wonder it’s become an overnight sensation. 

Of course the development has been longer than just overnight. Before turning to Kickstarter for funding to provide the dollars they needed for manufacturing, the Allerta team of high-energy entrepreneurs spent four years working on iterations. In Kit Eaton’s Fast Company article, Migicovsky compliments his industrial designer, Steve Johns. “(Steve) spent a lot of time looking at what people wear on their wrists, and how we could make something that could be customizable and beautiful, small and sleek."    

Here’s the Kickstarter video where Migicovsky succinctly explains the Pebble.

Next up on the horizon? People who choose not to go with the smart watch will soon have another option: a pair of Google-made glasses that will be able to stream information to the wearer’s eyeballs in real time. Stay tuned!

Here's some more information:
Pebble Kickstarter Watch at CES - press conference on January 9, 2013
Hands on With Pebble Smartwatch, the Most Successful Kickstarter Project Ever, Alexandra Chang, May 14, 2012

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