The makers of the Pebble smartwatch have released a "proof-of-concept" watchface SDK that allows third party developers to create custom watch faces and very basic apps. Shortly after the release there was already various watchface designs, a stopwatch app and a Tetris game (Pebblis) available for download in the Pebble forums.
The Pebble smartwatchFirst a quick backgrounder for those not familiar with the Pebble. The Pebble smartwatch was launched via the crowd funding platform Kickstarter in April 2012 and the first units are now shipping to customers. Powered by an ARM Cortex-M3 processor the watch has a 1.26-inch 144 × 168 pixel black and white "memory LCD" screen (described as "ePaper" – and not to be confused with E-Ink). It has a scratch and shatter resistant lens with an anti-glare optical coating.
Internally, a vibrating motor, a magnetometer, ambient light sensors and a three-axis accelerometer stand ready to support all manner of third party apps. It communicates with Android or iOS devices using Bluetooth. The battery life is listed as seven days days, but there have reportedly been some issues in this area, some of which have been solved via an OS update released with the recent SDK.
The Pebble is water resistant to 5 atmospheres (164 feet). Diving with it, however, is not recommended but you can go for a swim or wash the dishes. Charging is via a modified USB power cable which attaches magnetically.
The Pebble ships with 12 apps comprising of 11 watch faces and the classic game entitled Snakes made famous by Nokia. It plays and pauses music, can skip tracks and notifies you of incoming phone calls, e-mails and text messages from your iOS or Android phones via silent vibration.
The Pebble can be set up to handle notifications for Incoming Caller ID, SMS, Facebook, Twitter and others, and to dismiss a notification you just shake your wrist (the one with the watch on). Compatibility-wise, the smartwatch works with iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, 5 or any iPod Touch with iOS 5 or iOS 6. Android devices running OS 2.3 and up.
Watch Face SDKIn the most part, the recently released SDK only addresses a very small portion of what was promised when 68,900 backers flooded the company with over $10 million via Kickstarter. The full-blown SDK is still not on the horizon although Pebble Technology CEO Eric Migicovsky has advised that the company had no option but to sacrifice the timely delivery of the App SDK in favor of hardware production.
What we do have is the newly released Pebble watch face SDK and over at mypebblefaces.com and on other Pebble fan forums new watch face designs are emerging at a rapid rate. Pebble can store up to 8 custom watch faces and the active display can be changed at any time using the Pebble App (Launcher) installed on your smartphone.
The watch face SDK is described as a "proof-of-concept" and as such it comes with some potential pitfalls. This from the Pebble SDK documentation:
CONSUMER ADVISORY WARNING
This is a Proof-of-Concept Release of the Pebble Smartwatch watchface Software Development Kit (SDK). Code written using this SDK can negatively impact stability of PebbleOS and in the worst case, brick a watch. As long as you steer clear of poking registers manually and generally setting out to mess too much with the firmware, you should be fine. But we can’t guarantee it at all. The goal with this SDK release is to gather feedback from the Pebble community and funnel that information towards a revised SDK (with memory protection) suitable for wider use. Keep in mind that any code written for this PoC will most likely be broken by API changes between these two releases.
So it would seem Pebble Technology is suffering from its own tremendous success. Turning the clock back, Pebble initially requested the Kickstarter community to support them to the tune of US$100,000 which at $115 ($99 for the first 200) a unit equated to circa 900 smartwatches. The project was very quickly over funded by a whopping 10,266 percent bringing the number watches expected on launch date to 89,300 give or take a few. Realistically, should anyone be surprised that deadlines are not being met? Probably not.
The year of the smartwatch?The Pebble is without doubt pointing the way forward in a space that has become the flavor of 2013. But this is definitely not shaping up as a one horse race, with indications that Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and other big players will be making their own forays into the smartwatch arena. That is not to say the Pebble cannot be a standout product. If the company achieves all it has set out to do, overcome the hurdles created by its own success and keep the price at or near $150 there should still be plenty of opportunity to thrive. Time will tell….
The Pebble watch face SDK can be downloaded here.
The following Kickstarter video runs through Pebble's vision for the smartwatch.