Over the last several months, I’ve been testing the Pebble smartwatch and thinking about the future of wearable technology. The Pebble links by Bluetooth wireless technology to my cell phone and allows me to access certain information on my wrist rather than on my phone.
Here are the pros and cons of the Pebble smartwatch.
One feature that I like is the ability to send fast responses to text messages. While a text message cannot be fully written from a Pebble, the Glance app has preset phrases that I can use to reply to the most recent senders. This may be a limit to some people, but I can probably respond to 20 percent of my texts with just an “OK.” Additionally, the app contains five more presets that get me through at least 60 percent of my texts.
Another convenient feature is the ability to get an alert about my next class, right from my watch. My high school provides a daily schedule in a downloadable format, and through Google Calendar I receive a notification telling me about my next class five minutes before the bell rings. While I could just memorize my calendar, it is complicated at my school because we run on a block schedule that varies every day. I could also just get this information from my phone. However, I have found that most teachers do not like it when students look at their phones in class, but they do not seem to mind if we check the time on a watch.
While I do think this calendar alert functionality is a useful feature, most teenagers will probably not be able to use it. First, most teenagers will not take the time to convert the iCal or vCal file into Google Calendar. Second, some students do not have access to a school-provided calendar file. Even if they do, they probably do not use it. Still, this feature represents a broader theme: the Pebble forces you to do too much work.
For example, one feature that I expected to be available was the ability to retrieve the weather. With the Pebble, you have to go to the browser on your phone and search the Internet for the right watch face that has the weather built into it. Then, you need to install a specific app that can talk to the watch and pull the right data to serve to the watch. This is too much work for most teenagers, and perhaps for even most technologically knowledgeable adults.
Besides the discussion of these technical features, there is a more significant national trend that smartwatch manufacturers need to address. Pebble and all the other smartwatch makers will have a difficult time selling to the teenage market because, according to one study, nearly two-thirds of teens never wear a watch. (In fact, the overall wristwatch category is on the decline.) In between classes or afterschool activities, teens prefer to sneak quick glances at their cell phones to look at the time and read their messages.
In addition, most teens with whom I have talked to have not been fond of the plastic design of the Pebble. The company has released the new Pebble Steel to appeal to more fashion-conscious consumers. However, the Steel still does not meet teenagers’ fashion needs. Teens prefer “cool” watches such as the ones offered by Fossil, Nike, Nixon and Ice.
To convince the teen market to use Pebble, and wearable technology in general, manufacturers will need to improve current designs and find new innovations that will convince teens to incorporate an additional device into their lives.
In my vision, I see a world similar to Spike Jonze’s movie Her. While I don’t think that we are close to dating our operating systems, I do think that connecting our smartwatches to miniature Bluetooth headsets (like the ones used in Her) can be the missing link in making wearable technology useful on a broader scale. And of course, addressing the design is essential if Pebble or anyone else wants to reach younger age groups.
Michael Sherman, a student at Seattle’s Bush School, is a technophile with aspirations to be a future entrepreneur and/or politician.
[Editor's Note: Michael's father, Craig Sherman, is a lawyer at Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati who represents GeekWire.]