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Pebble Steel

I’ve been very fortunate in my job. Apart from getting exposed to upcoming technologies, I sometimes get to play with new technologies. This was the case recently, when I had the opportunity to try a new Pebble Steel smartwatch for a few days.

Let me start out by saying that my expectations of the watch, despite reading independent reviews, etc. was somewhat too high. I may have considered the watch in a superhero context: making phone calls with a single button, leaping tall buildings using wifi, and creating the bat signal in my beloved Gotham New York City.

Nonetheless, the outcome was not disappointing.

The watch is a balance between a sports (read: guys) watch and a dress watch. It does not a super-duper color touch screen. It is a black and white e-paper display (like a Kindle). It is not a touch screen. Everything is controlled by the four buttons that line both sides of the watch.

One (potential) negative is the reliance on Bluetooth. In order for the Pebble to function beyond a watch, a persistent Bluetooth connection must be present between a smartphone and the smartwatch. This part, I must admit, was the biggest disappointment for me. I did have imagination of this all-purpose mobile gadget that would sit on my wrist. (Think of Batman’s utility belt!) But this is certainly not a deal breaker, since the smartwatch is a smart-accessory for my smartphone.

Using the Pebble Steel has been a very meaningful experience.

While I am generally terrible at answering a phone to begin with, over the twenty years I have owned a mobile phone, I have gained the superpower of being able to tune out all ringtones (including my own). This selectivity extends to calendar reminders, incoming SMS and IM, and generally any electronically generated alarm signal. The Pebble changes this. My wrist is now gently stimulated with the vibration of all these notifications. (With less than a week’s use, I cannot tell whether I will mutate a new superpower to ignore these gentle vibrations either!)

This may not seem significant. But reader, it is!

As I pride myself on being one of the better dressed analyst in our industry, the mobile phone has become somewhat of a sartorial boat-anchor inside my suit jacket. With the smartwatch, all that disappears.

I can now feel someone calling me. I can now accept the call with the touch of a single button, and with my sub-ounce Bluetooth earpiece, I can communicate with the world again without ever being yelled at again by my tailor! (Digression: my tailor is a Chinese man, and speaks to me in Cantonese. For some reason, it feels like my father yelling at me!)

Of course, it has taken me several paragraphs (and no doubt minutes out of your life) to tell you what seemingly little the Pebble smartwatch actually does; and, honestly, it really does not yet do too much other than being a $250 extension of an already expensive smartphone (the original Pebble is less expensive, and comes in many more colors than steel and black).

But, like the Bluetooth or wired earpiece, the crazy smartphone covers and accessories into which we invest into our mobile devices, the Pebble is an investment in convenience.

In my case, I expect that extended wearing of the Pebble watch will probably be a revenue generating exercise (or a least a cost avoidance exercise), whereupon clients will no longer question why I never pick up my phone!

What I do see the smartwatch market doing, is pushing the usefulness of phablets and smaller tablets. While my fingers are not bulging, I tend to fat-finger a lot of words. I prefer using a 7” or 8” tablet as the touch keyboards are laid out better for my hand size (and I would think for many others).

When it comes time for me to change smartphone, having a smartwatch would probably weigh into the consideration for a larger, heavier smartphone that I can keep in a bag, rather than in a pocket.

So, in conclusion, would I recommend the Pebble smartwatch to everyone? The answer is a non-conclusive, it depends! Like all smartphone accessories, it is just that, an accessory. The smartwatch (at least in today’s iteration) is not a smartphone in a watch form-factor.

That said, for those like me, who has wandered into the proverbial multi-tasking wilderness, driven only by electronic stimulants, it is a wonderful accessory, albeit a somewhat expensive one.