Just received my Pebble smartwatch yesterday, a bit more than a year after the Kickstarter campaign has ended. Its pitch is being a watch with e-paper display, Bluetooth communication with Android and iOS, a Cortex-M3 ARM processor, with the ability to run programs that change the watch look (“watchfaces”) or provide extra functionality (“watchapps” ).
I almost forgot about that I have supported it, until my friends on Facebook started to receive theirs, and I run into a person recently wearing one (the red coloured one, mine is gray and that was manufactured later). Even if I’m not really a wristwatch person – haven’t had one for years -, I like watches in general and clever new tech all is always welcome with me. (I wonder if any of these will be in pocket watch form some day).
Setting it up was pretty easy, the Pebble app on Android does pretty much everything. Setting up notifications for emails, Facebook messages, calls and SMS is one of the first thing. Until I get overwhelmed them and will turn them off, probably. The app also sets up such that when my phone downloads a file with the right extension (.pbw), it will automatically sent to the connected Pebble. The updates are pretty easy and quick too. I got a bunch of different watchfaces from My Pebble Faces, an unofficial repository that has much more than the official one. Maxed out around 10 or so, then had to use the app on my phone to remove some of them. Easy, though now really feel it all depends on the phone I use as well, the watch is mostly as clever as the accompanying phone app.
Fooled around with it a bit more, checking the alarms, the automatic Runkeeper integration (pretty neat, if only I could switch from “pace” display to “speed” for the watch), some small watchapps. In the case of watchfaces, I switched back to the original “Text Watch” face, which is pretty neat and unique for non-smart-watches. If only it could be modified to write things like “ten oh seven” for “10:07” instead of “ten seven”, it would feel more natural. There’s a watchface called Words o’Date that does that, except that it also adds the date, making the front look a bit too crowded for me. So keeping the original at the moment.
With this playing around I noticed one possible strength of the display, that almost everything can be animated, and that animation is pretty smooth. [Update: it’s actually e-paper, not e-ink, so my bad, the following comparison is not really valid Thanks for the comment.] From my limited experience with e-ink in the form of reading on my Kindle Touch, Pebble is really agile. Looking in the the Software Development Kit (SDK) documentation, there is a lot of functionality dedicated to animation.
After the whole day of usage I was thinking that when I was young(er), I would start hacking on interesting things right away, would have a lot of ideas, put in loads of effort, oftentimes stay up late to make something new to work. These days it’s less like that, even if I have much more toys lying around waiting to be hacked on. Around dinner time I decided that it cannot continue like that, so before going to sleep, will have my very on watchapp done.
Didn’t have many ideas, though, and haven’t looked yet too much, just wanted something simple. A Magic 8-Ball came up as a possibility: an app that gives you answers to your yes/no questions. It’s pretty easy in the core: a bunch of stock answers (20 in the original case), a random number generator to choose from them, and display it. Can do just bare text for the first time.
To set up my Linux box for the development, got the latest Pebblekit from Github, which is the SDK and examples and all the tools together. Unfortunately everything inside relies on “python” being Python 2.x, and on my ArchLinux this is not the case. The quickest workaround I found was to use Python’s virtualenv. I have also needed a different version of GCC that compiles for the Pebble’s ARM processor, the arm-none-eabi-gcc, fortunately in the ArchLinux User Repository (AUR). It just took a looooong time to compile. These two steps put me right into business and been able to compile the example watchapps and watchfaces.
I don’t remember much of my C skills (never had that much), that are mostly kept alive just by Arduino programming. Fortunately the Magic 8-Ball is simple enough program that looking at the examples, Stack Overflow, and Github, I could find all the pieces I needed (array of strings, random number generator in C, text display).
By around 1am I had a working version, and it’s totally fine. It’s even fun, even if very simple. People can get it directly from its page on My Pebble Faces, and apparently while I was writing this, 3 people already did, sweet!
In the future, I would like to keep up this creative hacking. For the Magic 8-Ball I could include some graphics, maybe neater transitions, make it less an “example” app and more an app. It’s really cool, that so many of the uploaded watchapps and watchfaces on My Pebble Faces also share their source code (50% of the 500 items, can filter for it in the search form), so I can learn from that. How much better Android apps would be if they’d do the same? My code is also on Github, naturally, in the magic8 repo.
For Pebble in general, communicating with the phone over Bluetooth can be very useful, if a useful Android app complements it. Smart clothing and accessories are just going to be more prevalent. There are already “next generation” smartwatches out there, like the Agent, that will be cool in a different way (I haven’t supported yet, they got 10x funding anyways).
Also, I think I should put some effort into compiling Libpebble for my laptop, that would make it possible to cut out the phone as a middleman and make things more future proof.
And as a first priority, I should be getting used to wearing a watch again, it’s been a while.