I’ve Learned To Love (Wearables) Again

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The Consumer Electronics Startup Show

As a dedicated watch nerd, I felt that smartwatches were, on the whole, awful. A watch was a watch – if made correctly and correctly handled it’s a miracle of technology in its own right. The movement, the face, the metals, the design – all of these came together in a beautiful whole. There was nothing extraneous in a good watch, and most watch nerds know this.

So when watches like the Pebble, the Galaxy Gear, and the Omate came out, I was skeptical at best. Who needed these little wrist computers. Am I Dick Tracy in need of constant contact with base? I have enough screens in my face, I don’t need my watch to ping me with new emails.

I was wrong.

What changed? The Pebble got so much better. Before the Pebble could bring you text messages and had intermittent connectivity to your email account. I have a huge email box and I get about 400 emails a day. I needed more email notifications like I needed a hole in the head. In fact I turned off my notifications on my iPhone and even removed the unread badge from the mail icons. I just couldn’t handle the crush.

So a watch that reminded me that I had 1,000 unread emails was not something I wanted.

Then the new PebbleOS appeared in November. People raved. I almost didn’t upgrade. I had put the Pebble on my desk, uncharged, and figured it would join my SPOT watches and Palm Pilot watch in the box o’ dead smartwatches. Then, on a whim, I plugged it in and updated. I went to the Pebble app to find out how to add my email inboxes again and found nothing there – just a tutorial on how to update my notifications to make them appear on the Pebble. While I was busy grump using about how stupid wearables were, these guys had made some major changes.

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Suddenly all the notifications I cared about appeared on the watch screen. Things I wanted to see I could see, things I didn’t want to see were hidden. This very basic change – from firehose to à la carte – was immensely valuable. I wear the Pebble regularly now. Sometimes I wear the Pebble on one wrist or one of my mechanical watches on the other. I’ve learned to depend on the Pebble in a way that I never have with other wearables. It is at once exhilarating and freeing.

That’s when wearables get good: when they become part of our lives. Google Glass, as charming as it is, is still too wonky for daily use by non-die-hards. Wrist computers and phones – devices that have been with us for years – are still too big and battery-hungry. The Pebble, like the Fitbit before it, is just right.

I always counted wearables out. I never thought they’d become useful. But now, when facing a brave new era in notification technology, I’m cowed. Smartwatches make perfect sense, and they will only get better.

I want something that can do it all. I want the Pebble to measure my heart rate, my sleep patterns, and my steps. I also want a more vibrant notifications system, with different methods for different people. I want more standalone features – maybe world time – and I want the battery to last a little longer. But, in the end, I’m really pleased. Pebble has finally turned the corner and I think competitors aren’t far behind. In the immortal words of Farmer Hoggart, “That’ll do, Pebble. That’ll do.”