Posts Tagged ‘smartphone’

Pebble Watch’s Limitations: They are Key

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Maybe it is supposed to be click-bait, or maybe Jared Newman (@OneJaredNewman) is sincerely confused. In his posting on ( he complains that the Pebble watch is too much work, and “Pebble’s new apps are no easier to reach than the phone in your pocket.”.

He misses the point.

The Pebble watch is not a replacement for his phone, it is an accessory. In fact without a Bluetooth link to a phone it loses most of its value. For anything that your phone is good at, your phone is good at it, and your phone wins!  Use your phone to play games, answer e-mail, read, take pictures, etc.

But there are some things that phones are not so good at. Telling the time, for example. Reaching into my pocket for that is silly. And the temperature: before I had my Pebble watch I found myself looking at my analog watch because I thought the temperature should be there. That was my hint that I should buy one finally.

It is somewhat ironic that phones are not good at telling us who is calling. When I am washing dishes and my Pebble vibrates I and can easily see whether it is my wife calling (dry off my hands and take the call) or not (keep washing dishes).

I mostly don’t like my phone to actually “ring”…you know, make noise when someone is calling. I bring my phone with me when I go places and don’t feel like I have the right to add my ringing to stores, offices, nor movies. I can have the phone vibrate, but I sometimes miss that. A smart watch vibrating, however, is a great way to be alerted that there is a call. Again, ironically, it is better at this than is a phone. Also text messages, breaking news alerts, and the other little alerty things a phone can do, are better suited to a smart watch. It gives me enough information so I know whether it is worth pulling my phone out of my pocket.

Vibrating and caller ID are big features all by themselves. But the phone is still the point. The watch is merely the accessory.

Yes, there are apps for the Pebble, but apply some sense when deciding how to use them!

The Pebblebucks app will let me pay for my coffee, I can pull up the app while waiting in line, and when I get my coffee I can pay with my wrist and use my hands to take my coffee and not be fumbling with my phone or Starbucks card.

I have a stopwatch app that I have used while swimming and I have used it while cooking (“How long have those steaks been on?”). In both cases it is worthwhile to push a few buttons to get to the stopwatch, and then leave it there while I am busy swimming or cooking. These are cases where being on my wrist is key.

There is a nifty looking biking app. I have not tried yet becuase my watch is new and it is winter in Boston, but I expect next summer it will be worth pushing a few buttons to get to it, and then leaving it there as I peddle off. And when I want details about my bike ride at the end of the day? I will pull out my phone, because it is better for focused use, when I have the time, when I have free hands.

Next big election I expect there will be a Pebble app that will give me vote returns. Yes, it will be some effort to find a good app, and some effort to get it working, but then I expect to just leave it there, glancing at it now and then.

For sports fans who can’t watch a big game, putting a sports app on the face–and just leaving it there to sneak peeks at–makes sense. If you can steal a few minutes to get details of the game, don’t use your watch! Grab your phone, or find a TV. (I know a bartender who loves sports, but works at a place with no TV. He might be able to sneak glances if he had a Pebble.)

In each case, the Pebble is good for when I am doing something else. It is a limited little thing that sits on my wrist. That is handy location when I am doing something else and want to be alerted or want to glance at some status, but for anything more involved, it is a cumbersome spot. Better to grab a smartphone.

This is very much like earlier incarnations of a wristwatch, they showed the time. Maybe they had a couple more functions, maybe they could alarm. But that’s it. They occupied very privileged real estate (I have only two wrists), but had limited function suited to that space.

The Pebble watch should be thought of like a traditional watch: it shows status (but many more choices than just time) and can alert (but with many more choices than just an alarm clock). But it is still a wristwatch. It is on my wrist, and it does wrist-suitable stuff. It is not a phone, tablet, nor desktop computer.

The Pebble is a really cool wristwatch. But it is a wristwatch!


P.S. It is also new, has some rough edges that need improvements, and it is getting improvements. Stay tuned.

©2014 Kent Borg.

Finally, my Picturephone, so cool! And ho-hum.

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

I am a child of the future.  When I was young the future was going to be great! In fact every few years they held World’s Fairs to tell us about the future (and show us quaint glimpses of distant peoples and big corporations).

One of the perennial staples of this future was the Picturephone. (Notice, only one uppercase letter in the name, we were more tasteful then.)

AT&T Picturephone

AT&T Picturephone

AT&T spent many millions of dollars on it, and it failed.  They persisted, but it failed.

I did once get to try a real Picturephone.  There was a bank in downtown Minneapolis that had a fancy corner spot with a very early model ATM.  In addition to the ATM, there was an AT&T Picturephone on which one could talk to a human teller, and I tried it out.  The teller was very nice, I could see her, she could see me, it was cool.  We didn’t have much to talk about, so it was a short conversation.

Now it is here.  Yes, it has been here for awhile (Skype, for example) but I mostly never got around to making video phone calls because it was not really that compelling.  That was one of AT&T’s problems: Cool at it was, was a Picturephone really good for anything? Good enough to justify the bother and expense?  No, it was not even worth the desk space.  Certainly not worth the confusion.  And don’t even think about the toll charges that would have been necessary circa 1970.

But this morning I was doing a video chat between Boston and Los Angeles, in living color, on speaker (itself something from the future), and my mind was blown away to contemplate it.

Nexus 7 Tablet

Nexus 7 Tablet

The goll-darn future was finally sitting on my kitchen table!

For a geezer like me, who was raised on the future, to compare the promise with the reality, was stunning.

Amazing quality, easy to use, and free.  That last part, free, is a really big point.  No, a Nexus 7 is not free, nor are the wifi access points in my house (need more than one, need good coverage at home!), nor the DSL service to connect me to the internet.  It all costs a lot, but this infrastructure is there for other reasons.  Doing video calls is just a side-feature, so it gets to ride along for free.  I might go for months before I have occasion to make another video call, so it is a good thing I don’t need to use video chatting as the justification for all this expense.

The Future Isn’t What it Used To Be

So much of The Future that was shown at all those World’s Fairs was technically doable, but somehow not practical and stubbornly resistant to becoming reality.  Consider the robots that would soon clean our houses. Now, 40+ years after the heyday of The Future, the best we have along these lines is the Roomba!?  The Future has resisted happening.

Yet, that doesn’t mean the world hasn’t changed over these years.

“Data Processing”!

The World’s Fairs had computers, but they were oddly off to the side.  Something to marvel at, but outside of business and science, not obviously useful.

I remember as a teenager learning about early hobby computers and realizing that a computer was a universal machine that could do anything!  Well, anything that had to do with well defined logical operations, but still, what else is there!?  (I was a geek.)

Industrial vs Information Age

The clichés about how the information age changed the world are true.  (Does anyone still remember the “information age”?) But the way it changed the world wasn’t by just using electronics to build new single-purpose appliances, that was an industrial age perspective. No, it was by taking advantage of the universal properties of storing, transforming, and transporting information.  (Miniaturization, plunging costs and power consumption, and increased speed were also important.)

Consider the cell phone.  It started out as a carphone.  Your house had a phone line, your work had a phone line, so for fancy people, why not get a phone “line” installed in between, in your car?  Cool!  But, powerful as that was, it wasn’t worth it for most people.  Over a few years (thanks to miniaturization et al) the phones shrunk until they could fit in a purse or even pocket.  They became less specialized (more general purpose) and so more compelling.  People, not locations, started to have phone numbers.  It was big.  But kind of only the warm-up act.

Enter the “smartphone”. By putting a powerful computer in your pocket instead of just a telephone, things really change.  Yes, my Galaxy Nexus is an impressive “phone”.

Galaxy Nexus

Galaxy Nexus

I use it constantly. But I hardly ever talk on it.

General Purpose

What do I use it for? Everything! Well, Twitter, but lots of other stuff, too.

It is a “transistor radio”, camera, weather station, pocketwatch, newspaper, shelf of paperback books, atlas and world-wide street map, impressive reference library, wire-service news printer, stock ticker and trading terminal, calculator, flashlight, compass, artificial horizon (really: fly your small plane in bad weather), “cassette player”, calendar, address book, chess set, somewhat odd TV set, mail order catalog, bus and plane schedule, airplane arrival screen, GPS receiver (for you time travelers from 1970: “GPS” is a really fancy version of LORAN or Omega; it uses satellites!), constellation/sky map, dictionary, notepad, magazine rack, (small screen) movie player, video recorder, audio recorder, restaurant directory and reservation making machine, credit card, real estate directory, alarm clock, and more.

It does e-mail.  And, as long as I have it with me anyway, it will do video calls.

But sometimes I go for days without actually talking on this “telephone” of mine.

It is the general-purpose nature of this device that makes it compelling.  Most of the things it can do would not be worth putting my pocket, not alone, but the fact that it can do all that stuff, all from the same pocket, that is what makes it worth it.

The teenage geek in me was right, computers can do anything, particularly if you give them really cool sensors and many, many billions of dollars worth of support infrastructure, installed all around the world.

Before we all forget about the “information age”, stop to realize it happened, it is here.  No, you didn’t get a flying car (probably not a pony either), but an astounding change has come over our lives and I think it is damn cool.