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back to article Smartwatch face off: Pebble, MetaWatch and new hi-tech timepieces

If the rumours are to be believed, Apple and Microsoft are both developing "smartwatches" - wrist-worn gadgets that do rather more than simply display the time. The Apple rumours kicked off after smartwatch-pioneer Pebble’s Kickstarter campaign generated kilometres of column-inches, and with Cupertino on the case, it wasn’t long …

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Agent watch

On kickstarter since yesterday, now at $202k with 1170 backers.

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Anonymous Coward

Watches

I like a watch for adding a bit of style, man jewelry if you will, as my phone does all that I'd need from a watch other than look good on my wrist. These are just slightly more stylish than wearing a car manufactures merchandise.

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Anonymous Coward

Tools

Agree, these are probably not for the vain.

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Re: Tools

And that may be why the iWatch sweeps all the other contenders aside. One thing for sure, it'll be a whole lot better looking that the fugly mothers in the article.

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Re: Tools

And yet, as the only function that they all seem to share is Tw@ter and Faceberk alerts, they would seem to be aimed directly at the vain.

Presumably this is why Apple are gettiing involved. They've spotted a perfectly good piece of available-off-the-shelf tech that should sell like hot cakes to the self-obsessed, if only it didn't look shit.

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Re: Tools

Maybe, although some of the appeal in watches is the extreme variety - if everyone has the same watch then it may lose quite a lot of that appeal.

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Micro USB charging

Agree a standard cable is more likely to be to hand but Pebble's charger allowed the waterproofing of the watch without having a bulky / fiddly / losable port plug.

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Re: Micro USB charging

I would like to see induction charging on a watch.

My watch lives on my bedside table at night next to my phone. If I could just drop it on the charge panel with my phone that would mean it always gets charged.

Micro USB would be handy for the odd occasion that i'm not at home though.

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Re: Micro USB charging

The Agent watch (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/secretlabs/agent-the-worlds-smartest-watch) works with Qi charging which I see as a nice improvement from the Pebble cable.

The downside though is that the USB cable for the Pebble is nice and small so I can shove it in my laptop bag when I go on a business trip but a Qi charger will add a bit more bulk. I'm sure as Qi charging becomes more common place I'll end up carrying one around with me anyway so it'll be moot at that point.

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Re: Micro USB charging

Why not make the strap a cable with a male microUSB plug st the clasp? I'm sure I've seen something similar on Alibaba

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Re: Micro USB charging

Being unable to change the strap wouldn't appeal to me plus it'd add bulk. Some people like like that idea though.

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Re: Micro USB charging

>> I would like to see induction charging on a watch.

>> My watch lives on my bedside table at night next to my phone. If I could just drop it on the charge panel with my phone that would mean it always gets charged.

>> Micro USB would be handy for the odd occasion that i'm not at home though.

>The aforementioned Agent watch currently on Kickstarter might pique your interest then. It is set to include wireless charging (QI).

The Citizen Eco-Drive system may be better still, depends if it could be made to work through a display.

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Re: Micro USB charging

Those watches with one-shot batteries are probably going to lose their waterproofing as soon as you replace it...it's often done with a pressurised case.

I had a 200m G-Shock crap out on me in the shower, once, for exactly that reason.

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Re: Micro USB charging

"The aforementioned Agent watch currently on Kickstarter might pique your interest then. It is set to include wireless charging (QI)."

Could be a winner for GS4 owners. It is Qi-capable though not out of the box (however, Qi backs are slowly coming onto the market. Having both phone and watch Qi-capable would make a Qi pad more useful.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Micro USB charging

@NinjasFTW

> I would like to see induction charging on a watch.

There are some (non-smart) watches with induction charging.

<http://www.amazon.com/RICOH-vibration-Rechargeable-electromagnetic-660002-11/dp/B006VRT80Y>

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Re: Micro USB charging

>I had a 200m G-Shock crap out on me in the shower, once, for exactly that reason.

I've had a 200m Gshock repaired under warranty following a high fall onto concrete - when I got it back the strap was mouldy because they had pressure-tested the waterproofing after making the repairs, but not dried it out afterwards. I'm not sure that the watch battery shop on the high street does that! (Casio did replace the strap, too)

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Re: Micro USB charging

'I had a 200m G-Shock crap out on me in the shower, once, for exactly that reason.'

Waterproof or not, I would take my watch off before getting in the shower.

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Re: Micro USB charging

I wonder how long before it becomes possible to power a smart watch using either solar or Seiko Kinetic type technology - on of the best things about my watch is that it never needs charging (unlike my phone).

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Usefulness of Pebble increasing

I've had my Pebble since late February and it's been a revelation for me. The in-use battery life of my smartphone has increased because I don't have to check it every minute or so for texts/emails and I only need to reach for my phone if I see a message is important. I even keep the ring volume and vibration on my phone off because the Pebble allows for discrete.

The Runkeeper integration is great if you're the fitness type and there is now Free Caddie (golf course info app) integration if that's your thing. It's this type of app integration that will really start to drive the take up of these watches and it's good to see a developer community growing behind it.

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Re: Usefulness of Pebble increasing

I thought the Pebble would be something of a gimmick when I backed the KS project but having had mine for a few months it has shown itself to be an extremely useful thing.

When they get the bugs sorted out it'll end up being a really good product. Right now it's a real PITA to have to setup the notifications again on IOS each time the Pebble and phone lose contact. Sort that and the flaky caller ID and I'll be a happy man.

That said, I've backed the Agent watch on KS today mainly because of the QI charging. That and I like gadgets.

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Re: Usefulness of Pebble increasing

I didn't have a smartphone when I backed Pebble last year. I wanted to have a replacement for the amazing (but not quite smart) Timex Datalink USB which has been discontinued with no equivalent replacement.

Watching the Pebble updates on smartphone integration I decided to go with a Nexus 4 rather than an iPhone 5 (well, the price had something to do with the choice, along with iOS 6 and Apple Maps).

Had the pebble for a month and it's invaluable: the Nexus 4, Galaxy S3/4, Note2 etc are all so bloody big it's a struggle to get them out of a pocket!

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Re:re-setting notifications after loss of bluetooth

no problems with that on mine. It may (or may not) be part of what BTNotificationEnabler (available on Cydia) does, I think that little tweak also helps by letting you not have to have the (phone battery draining) PebbleApp open in background.

I'm having a hard time finding fault with mine at the moment, battery life is long enough for it not to be an issue. lets me read texts and emails without having to get my phone out, (which is very helpful in meetings and such)

the mypebblefaces. site is a growing repository of watchfaces, and apps, all unofficial at the moment. i'm sure those who need to know this already do, but you can download the .pbw files into dropbox, then just open them in Pebble from your phone.

In the couple of months I've had mine, i have already seen several improvements, both to the firmware, and the community led software, and i fully expect it to continue. and I can play snake, tetris, asteroids, and arkanoid on my watch...

I am not affiliated with Pebble (or mypebblefaces) in any way, just a happy owner.

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Re: Re:re-setting notifications after loss of bluetooth

BTNotificationEnabler does indeed sort that particular problem but my iPhone isn't jailbroken and I'm not planning on changing that.

The battery life is pretty awesome these days, v1.10 of the firmware was an enormous improvement on the previous version where I was getting < 2 days if I was lucky. Now I'm getting 12-14 days which is great.

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Re: Usefulness of Pebble increasing

The big headache with Pebble (for me) is the lack of WP8 support. In that respect - the Agent looks perfect: WP8 and Qi, which works nicely with my handset.

That said, I like the idea of using e-ink as a power saving feature - that would give the whole an even higher gadgetfreak score...

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Re: Usefulness of Pebble increasing

And I didn't see any mention of Pebble being e-paper?

No battery munching LCD or OLED. No wonder it lasts a week.

I was reading the article thinking, "why don't they use e-paper!"

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Smart watches are still pretty dumb

A watch that requires charging every week or even after a few days, powers off its display to save power, and will be obsolete in a few years is hardly a "smart" watch.

I think smart watches will justify their existence when they overcome these obstacles. The closest to that in the current batch of watches is the G-shock for using LCD and bluetooth 4.0 low power but it's ahead of its time since not many phones implement it.

Even when one considers what's so "smart" about these phones it usually boils down to it being a dumb remote display for text messages, or a heart beat monitor or something equally superfluous. I wonder where the market is for these things.

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JDX
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Re: Smart watches are still pretty dumb

Charging weekly is hardly an issue. Build chargers into mouse-mats (actually I patent that).

A screen that turns off when not being used is not a problem either really in my view if you get advantages to make up for it.

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Re: Smart watches are still pretty dumb

A "dumb" watch runs for years between charges. Why should someone have compromise so severely on that or need yet another charging dock / stand just for a watch?

A screen that turns off is also huge problem. A "dumb" watch has an always on display. It does not need a free hand to turn it on which someone might not have if they are driving, hauling a bag, or talking on the phone (oh the irony). It's just inconvenient to have push a button to see the time.

The G-shock is the only one of the current crop of smart watches which I consider acceptable in either regard. The Pebble's display at least is always on, but approximates time to save power which is pretty crap.

I think once phones catch up to the tech that there may be something to say for smart watches. At the moment they're just clumsy power sapping gimmicks.

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Re: Smart watches are still pretty dumb

Agree totally - no need for that 'just for a watch'.

But the idea with something like a Pebble is that it is not just a watch but a convenient extender for a phone that is no longer just a phone either.

And just as people will accept charging a smartphone on a daily basis even though if you just wanted a phone you can have one with a battery that lasts for weeks, I reckon enough people will accept charging up a watch if it offers similarly extended functionality and convenience.

Having to wind and adjust wrist watches regularly did not significantly hinder their uptake in the first place and I think we'll see a similar tolerance of regular charging with these watches.

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Re: Smart watches are still pretty dumb

"The Pebble's display at least is always on, but approximates time to save power which is pretty crap"

only if your chosen watch face does so. The time will keep itself without the bluetooth link. There are many analogue style faces with second hands for those that want accuracy.

the three that i use most often (change between them with the push of a button) are

1) shows time and date, refreshes every 5 mins, so shows; 1 o'clock, five past two, ten to three etc. Useful because i rarely need to know exactly what the time is.

2) shows time, refreshes once an hour around about the half past mark, shows 4is, 5ish, 6ish. Good for weekends, holidays, when that's all you need. (easy to swap to another face for more accuracy)

3) Beer o'clock. Static. because, sometimes, time doesn't matter at all (during a pub crawl for example).

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Meh

Re: Smart watches are still pretty dumb

People put up with all of those issues with smartphones, compared to an old brick nokia. I reckon there's a decent sized market for these, which will get larger as the bugs get worked out

Mind you, on thing I will guarantee, in twenty years there'll still be people complaining about all of these problems, and refusing to wear anything except their rolex.

c'est la vie

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Re: Smart watches are still pretty dumb

Yes, a watch needs to be readable without pressing any buttons.

Is it beyond our ken to make a screen (LCD?) that de-energises to transparent? Then put a conventional watch with hands behind it.

The other way would be if it could sense the characteristic gesture of turning the back of one's hand to face one's face. I doubt whether the tech to do that on a watch-sized battery is yet available.

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My opinion based on the Wrist PDA, MetaWatch, and Pebble

The Wrist PDA still did some things right, IMO, that the Pebble still doesn't. It was a far more powerful device (as far as software - the Pebble probably has more CPU power) that made it a lot easier to avoid a phone pull, and a modern device could do what it did with live sync with the phone databases. However, it was HEAVY, THICK, and had absolutely atrocious battery life (if you made it past a day without recharging, you were doing really well, unless you did the iPod Shuffle battery mod, then you got 2-4 days). Oh, and they broke if you looked at them funny.

The MetaWatch is really a massively flawed device. Battery life is mediocre, and they went for an extremely low power CPU without much local storage at all. This meant that they do almost everything on the phone, rather than on the watch CPU, and the watch acts as a terminal. So, the watch ends up laying on the Bluetooth interface heavily to keep things going, burning through tons of battery. And, because it's literally getting screen updates over Bluetooth, button presses end up quite laggy, especially if you haven't done anything in a while with it.

The Pebble is an interesting balance. There's some UI concerns caused by the lack of a touchscreen (the buttons are good, but I also want touch/stylus for some applications), but the screen is pretty nice, it has enough local processing power to run software directly on it (meaning that the Bluetooth link is used much less, saving both watch and phone battery), and they seem to have a pretty good idea of what they're doing. Right now, with third-party apps running on the watch, and the latest update that allows Pebble<->Android app communication, I'd say that it blows the MetaWatch out of the water as far as capability.

Oh, and both the MetaWatch and Pebble will sync time once they connect. And, the Pebble's low battery warning, I've found on recent firmware to be pretty useful - if I get the warning, that means that when I get home, I need to put it on the charger, but I don't need to worry about it before then. The only time I've run out with recent (1.9+) firmware, I forgot to do that, and went out a second day with it wanting charged, and it still lasted most of the day.

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Weight versus quality

I have tried a few different smart watches. To my personal surprise, I like the metal watch way better than super-light weight plastic models. Plastic feels cheap and fragile compared to the more solid materials. Pebble looked amazing on the photos but when I tried it, I couldn't believe how toyish it felt. On the same note, Metawatch feels like durable and better quality to my wrist. But then again, I am a Metawatch fanboy...

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Anonymous Coward

Why bother?

What makes a smart watch? Connecting it somehow to a smart phone?

How many hands do you need to use a watch? 2

How many hands do you need to use a phone? 1

If you are standing on a train/bus or holding a cup of coffee - you cannot use a smart watch

If you are standing on a train/bus or holding a cup of coffee - you can use a phone

A smart watch is not as smart as a Rolex for example, in fact it is rather untidy in comparison

At what point will a smart watch be useful? When it can displace the smart phone. So you'd need some sort of projection display then? Or maybe some googlespex.

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Re: Why bother?

>How many hands do you need to use a watch?

Zero, if you are just glancing at it to see what a notification is.

>How many hands do you need to use a phone?

One, usually, but it has to retrieved from a safe place - a pocket or bag - and returned there when finished.

>If you are standing on a train/bus or holding a cup of coffee - you cannot use a smart watch

Fair enough, on the occasions that it is easier to use your phone, you can still use your phone. That doesn't mean that the phone will always be the easiest option - a cyclist would find easier to tell the time from a wristwatch than they would by pulling a phone from their pocket, locating the screen lock button to display the time and then returning the phone to their pocket.

>A smart watch is not as smart as a Rolex for example, in fact it is rather untidy in comparison

Fair enough - though I'm not Rolex's biggest fan, I think a useful smartwatch could be made that doesn't draw attention to itself. I'm thinking of that Tissot Touch watch, when tapping 3 o'clock made its hands rotate to indicate altitude, touching 6 o'clock made them act as a compass, 9 o'clock a thermometer etc... its appearance gave no clue as to its extra functions- it looked like any other analogue watch.

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Re: Why bother?

If the watch has a low power display that can stay on then you don't need to prod it to turn the display on. You can just look at the screen.

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Joke

Re: Why bother?

If it's an analog display you need two hands!

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A busy market - but the Agent looks the most interesting

I've been a fan of smart watches for a while - had one of the Sony MBW-150s and a TI Chronos (true geek dev watch rather than smart watch). I've been following many of the ones you mentioned with interest. I'm really keen on being able to create apps ON the watch rather than just sending alerts to it. The MSP430-based Metawatch had promise but was really buggy early on. The Pebble is definitely interesting but not what I wanted.

I have to say the Agent ticked all the boxes for me so I backed it straight away. I've just switch to WP8 (previously very happy on Android) so support for that is a big plus, as is wireless charging. Being able to dev (and even debug I believe) on the watch using Visual Studio is huge. I'm familiar with the Netduino so am confident the guys will deliver what they promised. I know Eadon will troll away, but the .NET microframework should be able to deliver a high quality dev environment for writing phone apps. It should the first really good smart watch - as opposed to just a notification system on your wrist.

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don't unserstand the omission of Sony

As best as I can tell, the Sony smart watch does everything these devices can, more reliably, better, cheaper (£75 on Amazon) has a much larger catalogue of apps and widgets and with few, if any, of the limitations you highlight. So, other than being nearly 18 months old now, I don't understand why it only got a passing mention in the opening section? Anyone reading the article would get the impression there are no mature devices available that do all the things you list but that isn't the case.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: don't unserstand the omission of Sony

Perhaps Sony don't engage with the media well? someone writing an article will want co-operation with Sony and possibly some hardware to play with.

Same goes for their smartphones, despite having had screens you can wave your hand above and decent cameras the press focus on Samsung and Apple.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: don't unserstand the omission of Sony

I have the original LiveView....

... in a drawer.

Very much a beta product but does make sense in a large screen slab-phone world.

Market for these wrist gadgets will be flat until Apple launch something.

Then they'll suddenly be revolutionary.

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Re: Ugh

I can't abide plastic straps on watches either, I've got a NATO strap on my Pebble at present and I'm happy with that. I'm not sure a metal bracelet would look good against a plastic watch.

The Pebble will work with pretty much any 22mm strap and bar the watches that have a micro USB cable in the strap you should be able to replace the plastic strap with any strap you want.t

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ugh

You have two wrists . . .

(Apologies for revisiting old trauma if you don't).

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Wrist-based technology needs two hands ...

the one on whose wrist the phone is mounted and the other to touch, or press, those teeny-weeny controls.

Google Glass is far more suitable, with only the occasional use of one hand. Along with some winks, blinks and head shakes. Unfortunately, those suffering from Tourette's syndrome might have some challenges with Google Glass.

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Re: Wrist-based technology needs two hands ...

Um, you don't have to let go of whatever your left hand is holding just because your right hand touches your left wrist. Or vice versa.

You don't have to touch your watch to read it.

Tiny buttons? The rotating bezel (a method of user input) on my watch is larger than any buttons found on my phone- and is a far quicker and convenient way of reminding myself when to take my dinner out of the oven than using a phone timer. There are other ways a watch could accept user input, too - such as shaking it or tapping the watch face.

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Meh

Maybe a kinetic smart-watch would be a better move in the future. It might not manage to provide all the power but it should keep it going longer.

Personally I wear a mechanical watch but that's coz I love the engineering of them, doubtful I'll be won over by a smart-watch.

Yoof of today are more likely to just sit the phone out on the desk wherever they are. I can't imagine they'll bother with one either unless [insert vacuous celebrity] promotes them.

Not sure I can see this becoming more than a geek toy unless it works its way into the mainstream like 3D tellys. Hardly anyone goes out to buy 3D tellys but they'll probably buy one with it just in case or because it has a better screen anyway.

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Go

If you're a hacker:

The ez430 Chronos, from Texas Instruments:

https://estore.ti.com/eZ430-Chronos-433-Chronos-Wireless-development-tool-in-a-watch-P1734.aspx

This isn't really a watch. Well, it *is* a watch. But it's really an MSP430 microcontroller dev kit, in a watch body. What you get is an elegant 16-bit microcontroller with 4kB RAM, 32kB flash, a proprietary (but reasonably standard) wireless link, and a whole pile of sensors. It's programmable in C and all the tools are in Debian. The whole thing costs $60 delivered (apparently you can get it for less if you hunt around for coupon codes).

The downside is that it's got a calculator style display, not a dot matrix, which is a damn shame. Plus it would be vastly more useful if it spoke Bluetooth, because right now you can't talk to it from a phone.

But if you're interested in embedded systems and hacking your own tools, you could do a whole lot worse.

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