Tiny Deathstars of Foulness

At first I didn’t think that I was going to write a review of my Pebble. Then, I realized that my perspective is probably different than most, so I changed my mind and decided to jot down 10 things to know about the Pebble. Before I get into that though, I’m one of those weird people that still wears a watch. Yes, I know, how very dated I must look. But hey, I really don’t care so I keep wearing it. Therefore, a different device on that wrist really doesn’t move the needle, it’s just a device that isn’t the other one that I wore for 20 years… I have stopped wearing my Tag completely, but that’s OK, it’s getting a little long in the tooth anyway. pebble-watch The Pebble has a lot of promise. A lot is fulfilled and more yet has yet to be fulfilled. Let me explain, starting with the things I love (the promise that is fulfilled):
  • The Pebble has an SDK. Using the SDK, developers can design apps and sell them or post them online.
  • The battery of a Pebble lasts me about 5 or 6 days, depending on how many push alerts the device gets over the low power bluetooth connection back to my phone.
  • The screen is monotone and epaper, which is to say that it is not designed to emit light (unless shaken) and so you can see the screen very well in sunlight, much like the pump at a gas station.
  • The Pebble receives low power bluetooth push alerts from your phone. This means that when someone says something on Instagram, likes a photo on Facebook or sends you a text, you see it on the phone and on the watch. Since many alerts you just look at, this keeps you from taking the phone out of your pocket. You can’t really do anything with most alerts, but you can see them and just file the piece of information for later. The alert will still be on your phone when you take it out of your pocket.
  • When someone calls, you see caller ID and contact info on the watch.  You can then answer a call right from the watch. If you’re wearing headphones and a mic then you never have to take the phone out of your pocket to answer calls.
  • You can control music on your iPhone through the watch. This means you can go forward and backward without taking the phone out of your pocket. When I’m on my morning runs this is especially helpful when I’m on a treadmill as taking my phone out of my pocket on the treadmill often makes me just unstable enough to possibly wipe out on the treadmill. I’ve only had it in the winter here in Minnesota so I’m not sure if that will matter to me when I get to run outside again.
The promise to be fulfilled:
  • I think this starts with a true app store, like Apple has. There are accelerometers and other doohickeys in these things that mean they can really do a lot more than what they can today. The app store isn’t out yet, although you can buy or download apps at the Pebble site (it’s just not a simple process all the time and better apps typically tend to get written when people make money from them).
  • There are fitness apps but the device doesn’t yet replace a FuelBand or a FitBit. It doesn’t track steps (which with an accelerometer should be simple to do), calculate burned calories, etc. I’d like to see an app that allows you to choose foods you tell an app on your phone you like so you can calorie count at the dinner table without busting out your phone. I’d also like to see a step tracking app that can sync to FitBit so I can stop wearing my Force.
  • Watchfaces are currently the big thing most apps allow you to control. I don’t give two craps about changing the watch to look different.  However, if you want to make your own “Haz Cheezburgur” watch face, feel free (this isn’t really a bad thing, just a lot of time wasted designing pixelated and monotone watch faces that could have been spent writing cool apps).
  • The device is currently half way between SDK 1 and SDK 2. This means there are cool features that you can only get if you go through a lengthy upgrade process that includes sending them a UDID for your iOS device. It’s not a terrible thing, like the other promises to be fulfilled with the Pebble, it’s just a thing.
Overall, I love the Pebble. The nerd factor around not having to take your phone out of your pocket, the ability to skip songs, the ability to look and see which push alerts you actually care about are all awesome. I hope that the app store brings with it a bunch of new apps that give you access to lots of things and that I can get rid of my Nike FuelBand or FitBit soon, but that could be 2 weeks from now or 2 years for all I know. It’s a quality device that’s well worth the money if the things I mention are things that you’d like to have. However, for now it’s not a replacement for that Garmin, FuelBand, etc type of device you may be using for fitness purposes. Anyway, if it’s the type of thing you’re into then good luck and I hope you enjoy it!

January 5th, 2014

Posted In: Wearable Technology

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First came food, shelter and clothing. Then came technology, innovating all three for thousands of years. But innovation in clothing stalled at some point. Once upon a time man make thicker clothing out of animals with thicker hides, better shoes and then armor. These helped to expand where we could go, when we could go there and how safe we were once we got there. But mankind has long sought using technology that is worn to make life better, from false teeth to eyeglasses. Moving into the somewhat more modern era, let’s look at 10 advances that, while more recent than throwing the hide of an animal that might have otherwise eaten us, are still pretty darn cool!
  • As a species, we are probably one of the most ordered on the planet. We go places at certain times and are able to minimize the amount of time that is wasted waiting for others because we know what time it is. We don’t have to find the city square and locate a clock tower or find a sunny spot because we have watches. I’ve always been happy with my watch, which I’ve had for a long, long time (see below).
IMG_5635But these days I’ve been experimenting with watches that do way more, such as  track heart rate, have integrated Nike+ and GPS (for example. the Polar watches and the Garmin watches).polar
  • The cellular phone goes in our pockets. So we don’t totally wear it. Yet… Many of the other innovations are coming and coming faster due to the fact that it seems practically everyone today has a smartphone and the APIs for cloud services that those devices connect to. Since the breakup of Ma’Bell we’ve seen the massive phone, the brick phone, the flip phone, the Treo/Windows Mobile phone and ultimately the battle between iOS/iPhone and Android. At first these started to change our lives by making us connected all the time. Then they gave us cameras and then came the app. Given the custom applications and wireless interfaces that allow each to communicate with external devices, we’re now seeing an unprecedented level of innovation due to a large part the advent of the smart phone. The GPS in my phone tells Foursquare where I am, the camera let’s me share pictures of my kid with the grandparents, the Bluetooth let’s me talk hands and cable free and the accelerometer keeps track of bike rides. The many aspects of technology required to make all this happen then comprise the basis for many of the other recent innovations in this field.
  • Wearable technology for the eyes, which we can just call eyewear for short started with the contribution of optics to wearable technology. Glasses were pretty good for a long, long time. Isaac Newton would likely burn the creators of Vuzix and Google Glass at the steak for witchcraft though (only after he’d used the devices to search for how to transmute lead to gold). Today, we are entering a new era, where contacts change the color of someones eyes and your glasses are able to show you information from your computing devices.
  • From the Nike+ sensor in my shoes to the Iron Man shirt that glows as though it has an arc reactor in there (thanks ThinkGeek), there are plenty of examples of technology being embedded in clothing today. There are also devices out there that test your golf swing, how you throw a ball and the speed of balls. I’ve come across prototypes of products and products with extremely limited supply chains that go a step further and allow you to wear clothing with embedded sensors for such things. I think that those will become more common, more open (so you’ll be able to use one item for multiple sports or tests) and of course as they become more common, less expensive. In the meantime we’ll have to settle for things like the Scottevest and quick drying shorts…Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 7.14.35 PM
  • Speaking of Nike+, health is an area where we’re starting to see plenty of advancements. Walk into any Apple Store and you can buy a Jawbone Up, Fitbit, Fuelband or a Nike+ sensor for a shoe. My Fitbit Flex is one of my favorite examples of wearable technology that I don’t even notice any more. I had experimented with the Nike FuelBand and others, but a tiny computer that talks to my phone and updates far more details of my life than I even knew previously is just awesome. And, it tracks my sleep patterns and has even become my alarm clock. But having a tiny sensor means these things could do so much more. I look forward to seeing where things go with these types of devices! IMG_5638
  • But health doesn’t stop with us leading healthier lives. Wearable patches to control pain, chips in pacemakers to alert manufacturers and doctors when devices are going to die and monitors that can be placed in the body and keep track of pretty much every detail of our medical state all bring us more and more towards the bionic man and woman. There are enough companies at this point that there’s room for an organization like Continua to push for the open and interoperability of these solutions. But to me, blood pressure monitors (such as this one from Wiithings) and glucose monitors available in the Apple retail stores are the best sign of the times, bringing these technologies from the prescribed or surgical to the every day practically mundane.
Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 8.11.48 PM
  • I first saw techie headgear, such as the Emoki project (now cancelled) at Burning Man, long ago. Actually, I guess I first donned a head mounted flashlight while exploring caves in Georgia far before that. But science fiction has long promised us brain wave translating or altering technology that we can wear on our heads and that just hasn’t really become common place. What is becoming normal are head mounted cameras for biking and other sports (such as live action Dungeons & Dragons). You can buy this stuff at the Apple retail stores, Amazon, etc. I’m not sure what the future holds for head mounted gear. Certainly we’ve come a long way from helmets to protect our heads from the sword of our enemy. But I tend to think that wigs that change color with our mood aren’t even scratching the surface of what we can really do. Not that anything will ever top the hat with beer straws that everyone should try at least once (yes, that is putting old school technology to a very important use)!Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 9.52.22 AM
  • So we’ve covered the whole body, except our hands. The most obvious modern example of a wearable technology is the glove. I picked up a pair of Etips from North Face a long time ago. I have another pair of their gloves that’s thicker as well (it gets cold where I live) and while I like the way they do things, there are other companies that specialize is a more contoured threading around the tip of glove fingers. I don’t like the gloves with little metal discs on the tips (e.g. Isotoner), but I’m sure many must. As I mentioned, gloves with sensors, that analyze the way that we hold or catch a football, grasp a golf club or swing a bat are likely to become somewhat common place at some point. I expect the future may hold gloves that send gestures to your phone without you taking the phone out of your pocket. Burton has already taken the technology they put into jackets 10 years ago and put them into their Mix Master Gloves. But the Nintendo PowerGlove made a promise to humanity. One that we could some day control Bad Street Brawlers with gloves. And while sensors in gloves to control machinery are now common in factories, I’m not certain such technology will really make it to the every day home until we all have robotic minions doing more than vacuuming our carpets.Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 9.37.27 AM
  • RFID is used to track parts in warehouses and Wal-Mart had supposedly made a requirement that all items sold in their stores would be tagged with RFID. Plenty of schools use RFID to track students as they move around campuses. While there are privacy concerns with students rolling around with chips embedded into their backpacks or ID cards, those arguments could be countered with the fact that when emergencies happen, it helps to be able to locate all your kids in a hurry. RFID isn’t as flashy nor as user friendly today as, let’s say, Google Glass. However, it does have some seriously awesome connotations for the future of logistics, passports and even safety in schools.Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 8.32.32 PM
  • Sure, I don’t really carry cash or much more than a couple cards and a license in my wallet. But I don’t want even that. NFC (Near-Field Communications) is getting more and more traction, although far slower than I would have thought. While there have been some Android devices with NFC built-in, it hasn’t become the killer protocol for wireless financial transactions we’d  hoped. I’m assuming that’s because Apple has tried many of their own things, like Passbook and apps that can be used to exchange money. I like using Groupons more because I don’t need to exchange money than because I get to save money. But the promise of NFC is there and whether it’s NFC or some other, more secure technology, I very much look forward to the day I can stop carrying a wallet!nfc_payment
And now, with fortunes to be made out there, there are wearable technology conferences springing up all over the world, from the Wearable Technologies Europe Conference to the Wearable Technologies Conference in San Francisco, there are vendors who are already doing this kind of stuff. And with Apple hiring former Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve as a new VP we can only assume that Tim Cook’s statement “I think wearables is incredibly interesting, it could be a profound area” was more than just a politically correct response. Dell has announced they’re looking into wearables as have others. With all the added resources now available to the market expect innovation to increase so that it’s not just health and fitness, medical and other smaller markets that are getting a lot of this innovation. Apple isn’t going to do much if they don’t see every human on the planet as a potential customer for their new products. What’s the most fascinating to me is what we haven’t even though of. And with the ability to control much of our homes from our mobile devices (Apple Stores now have NEST and controllable light bulbs), technology is becoming far more a part of everyday life than just the laptop, phone or tablet. It’s now being interwoven into the fabric of our everyday existence, helping us to live better, reduce our impact on the environment and be better. Or just have Angry Birds on a much larger “screen” with our Vuzix if that’s what we’re interested in!

July 5th, 2013

Posted In: iPhone, Travel, Wearable Technology

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,