Saturday, December 07, 2013


My cousin Henry is a musician and world traveller. At dim sum the other day he leaned over and asked me: so where are we headed tech guy? And I said: wearable tech. Of course, I don't have Google Glass or even a Fitbit, so I'm not sure why I said that except hat I've been reading about this trend.

Then Henry leaned over and showed me his UP band. We discussed his recent bike trip down the coast, and how he used his UP to track his progress. He showed me pictures from his phone and shared some great stories. So Iguess wearable tech is not where we're headed - we're already there. And I'm kinda behind the times.

I do, of course, carry my iPhone with me, and on the iPhone I have an app that basically does a lot of what a fitness tracking wrist band does - it's a GPS pedometer app called Moves. I particularly enjoy when Moves gives me credit for cycling when I'm driving around town. Is it cause I have a convertible? But, boy, look how much I exercise. Not much.

So I decided to take the next step and get a Pebble smart watch, which I've now had for about a week. The Pebble is a watch that adds a kind of bonus display to your phone, and will vibrate when you get a text, a call, or an email - you can then see a small summary of your communication on the watch face. When it's not being an iPhone display, it's a watch, so it doesn't seem like something "else" to wear.

I've already grown to love it and it kinda reminds me of the old days when I first got a Newton Message Pad. there's something a bit rough and kit-like about it that invites customization. And there's a thriving community customizing it. I particularly like a web site where you can make your own watch face - Watchface Generator for Pebble by Paul Rode; fairly easy to waste hours fussing around here. Build your face by uploading a background, adding analog or digital clocks, and other things - then use a QR scanner like Red Laser to download the .pbw file to your phone, and use the Pebble app to load it via Bluetooth.  It's fun and easy.

Here are a couple I made (click the link to download the watchface):


The "Think Question Create" tag line is from the school where I work, Marin Academy.

So how is it working out? The convenience is that I no longer have to take my phone out of my pocket to see who's calling, or get a text or email (just the sender and subject line). That doesn't sound like a big deal, but it turns out it is - at least for me, and I would imagine for lots of folks who do IT work.

Out of the box, the Pebble will just display time and remote your music app. In order to get this kind of functionality, you do have to add some extras: I am using an app called SmartWatch+. This app includes a tool to read your calendar, your texts, your emails, and grab weather info vis-a-vis your GPS. You then have to add a watch face or watch app that will display that info - they have one bundled, but I prefer these from


I find that while I'm running around campus, I usually have Smartface going, if the day is not too busy, I prefer the Futura display, and then at home I switch to a basic clock display like the ones above. Just a couple things. When I get a text, the watch vibrates and shows as much as it can in the display. When I get an email from one of two accounts that I have configured, the sender and subject one show up, but when I go to read more, it just says "Loading" and never loads (or I've never seen it finish loading). And its o'd that the watch will display the battery level of your phone, but so far, I have not figured out how to view the battery status of the watch itself.

I also find I don't have to dig out my phone to check if I messed something - my watch will know. The SmartWatch+ also includes some other apps which I have not yet explored: the is a weather forecast, a stock ticker, a more advanced music app, a more complete calendar app. I have yet to load the camera app, a Bitcoin tracker (I'll never need that one I hope), GPS screen, HTTP request screen, Find my Phone, and Reminders. Lots more to play with.

Unlike the fitness trackers, the Pebble does not collect much data, it just displays data you already have on your phone on your wrist. I stopped wearing a watch way back when I was an architect and I was still drawing on drafting tables with pencils (remember those); when I was drawing I'd take off my watch then I'd forget it at the office. So we'll see how long this lasts.