Pebble Steel: Best Smartwatch So Far
There’s nothing about the success of the new Pebble Steel smartwatch that you couldn’t have predicted by studying tech history.
Over and over again, gadgets become insanely successful when they do a few things very well. (See: PalmPilot, iPod, iPad.) And over and over again, gadgets flop when they are freighted with the wrong collection of features in a hopeless mass (Zune, ultramobile PCs and the Nokia N-Gage — a combination game console/cellphone).
Which brings us to smartwatches. A smartwatch, of course, is a wristwatch that connects wirelessly with the phone in your pocket. It can display incoming text messages right on your wrist. It can vibrate to let you know when a call comes in, even when you wouldn’t have heard your phone. It can pass along alerts — new email, Facebook messages, stock-market crashes — right to your wrist.
There are some advantages to having this information close at hand. It’s a lot less tacky to glance at your wrist during a meeting than to pull out your phone. When you’re riding a bike, it’s safer to get your next-turn GPS instructions by glancing at your wrist than it is to fumble for your phone. When your arms are full of packages or groceries … well, you get the idea.
There are lots of smartwatches available, but you probably have very few friends who own one. That’s because they’re all pretty terrible (the watches, not your friends).
The best-known one, the Samsung Gear watch, costs $300, works with only three Samsung phone models, has a camera on the watchband, lets you make phone calls by holding the watch up to your head — and looks like an HDTV strapped to your arm.
The people who made the Pebble watch (originally a Kickstarter project) have chosen to occupy a different spot on the Great Complexity/Size Spectrum. The Pebble has black-and-white screen — no color. (But it’s a razor-sharp e-paper screen — reminiscent of the black-and-white technology that you find on the Amazon Kindle ebook readers. The watch’s backlight comes on if you wriggle your wrist.)
So: No color. No speaker. No microphone. No touchscreen.