Pebble’s creators didn’t just make a functional smartwatch when they designed their device, they packed it with a lot of potential for the future, too. Much of that potential has lain dormant while Pebble focused on ramping up production and building an enthusiastic community of dedicated independent developers, but today, the startup is activating some more of its smartwatch’s superpowers, and laying the groundwork of the next generation of Pebble apps.
iOS 7 Notification Updates
For users, the immediate benefit of this announcement is that the latest firmware adds full integration with iOS 7, and no hassle notifications via third party apps, configurable via Notification Center settings. Any apps that you’ve enabled Banner notifications for in iOS 7 on your iPhone (any model with Bluetooth 4.0), will now show notifications on your Pebble, too. In practice, I had to reconnect the second Pebble that shows up in your devices menu under Bluetooth in Settings (which is the BLE connection) once to get this to work consistently.
The notifications work very reliably, though in the version I tested there were some issues with some primary apps like Mail sending duplicate notices. Pebble says it’s aware of both issues and working on a bug fix currently, however. And despite some growing pains, the changes are tremendous for iOS users. On Android, of course, Pebble has always been able to support third-party notifications, but on iOS, at best you needed to implement workarounds, and really there was no generally satisfying option. Now, I’m getting Skype, Hangouts, Twitter and many more notifications direct to the watch without any fiddly changes to existing settings.
Bluetooth Smart (or Bluetooth 4.0, or LE or what have you) was always built-in to Pebble, so whether you’ve got a Kickstarter edition, one from Best Buy or one ordered direct, you’ll have that ready to go. I spoke with Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky, who explained that they developed a way to use Bluetooth 3.0 to connect to devices for more appropriate tasks for that tech, like updating firmware and controlling the iOS music player, and Bluetooth LE for thing like notifications and other lightweight tasks. The combination should help the Pebble continue to enjoy long battery life, all the while improving general functionality.
Pebble SDK 2.0
The update for iOS users is just one of Pebble’s big announcements today; the other is aimed at developers, as the startup introduces version 2.0 of its SDK for building Pebble apps. So far, even with the limited tools provided for making crude apps and watchfaces, developers have created 2,200 apps on MyPebbleFaces.com, and uploaded over 80,000 watchfaces on the community-built watchface-generator.de. There are already over 50 companion apps designed to be used with Pebble on iTunes and Google Play, and over 10,000 individuals Pebble classifies as developers for its platform.
Version 1.0 of the SDK was little more than a testbed, however, and 2.0 opens up many new possibilities, according to Migicovsky. That’s because it unlocks various Pebble components that make building apps native to the watch much easier, including access to its onboard accelerometer, data storage, and logging of activity which it can automatically report back to an app once the watch reconnects to a device.
“Our attitude is that we as a company are not necessarily going to be the ones writing the hero apps all the time for Pebble,” Migicovsky explained. “But it’s our job to make sure that for a third-party developer, they can get started as easy as possible, building apps that could potentially be equivalent to other pieces of hardware. Maybe the next person that comes up with a fitness tracking algorithm at Stanford, MIT, Harvard or wherever, instead of having to go start their own hardware company, can just walk down to Best Buy, grab a Pebble and get started.”
Big Name App Partners
Since its launch, Pebble has had interest from big companies who want to integrate their products or services with the platform, but Migicovsky says they were waiting for the right moment to start bring those on board. The new SDK means that they’ve been able to work with some early partners to build products that complement some top-tier apps, including Foursquare and Yelp. The Yelp Pebble app will offer up listings for nearby locations to check out, and the Foursquare one actually allows you to check in direct from the smartwatch itself, which should help Foursquare drive more active engagement for its service among Pebble users.
Other partners include iControl, which is building remote control of Xfinity home monitoring and automation services for the watch, and GoPro, which is making it possible to completely control its Wi-Fi-enabled GoPro action cameras from your wrist via Pebble. These initial partners aren’t launching their apps immediately, but they’ll be available sometime over the next few weeks. More info on SDK news can be found via Pebble’s announcement livetsream, going on right now.
Now that Pebble has fulfilled the backlog of early demand it faced, and shipped over 190,000 Pebble watches to backers and buyers, and released a mature software development framework, I asked Migicovsky what’s the next phase for the company, suggesting new hardware product might be on the horizon. Predictably, he wouldn’t speak to future product plans, but instead pointed to the chance the company has now to build a true software ecosystem, and make those apps easy to access for users. When asked whether he was working with third-party portal like MyPebbleFaces to make that happen, he said that they were indeed speaking to them directly, but that there’s nothing more to announce at this time in that regard. With a community built-in, however, bringing MyPebbleFaces in-house to form the foundation of a software marketplace makes a lot of sense.
Taking The Next Step
Pebble is also now back in stock on the website, and for a limited time, is being offered in all colors with free worldwide courier shipping. This should make it so that anyone can get one in around four or five days, Migicovsky says. Catching up with demand is good for consumers, but it also means Pebble is facing a new challenge: After satisfying initial appetite, it now needs to bring consumers back to the table for the rest of the meal, and the announcements today are designed to help do just that.