Date: Friday, February 7th, 2014, 08:40
Category: Accessory, Apps, Consumer Electronics, Gadget, iOS, iPhone, Review, Software, Software, The Apple Core, Wearables
I’ve had a few days to work with the updated 2.0 firmware on the Pebble smartwatch and the updated iOS app which now features the new appstore. As far as app and watch face management go, the new iOS app is a huge improvement, but the appstore component still needs a bit of work. If you want to see a video about setting up a Pebble with the new iOS app plus a look at the new Pebble Steel (still saving up for mine), head over to the Apple Core where Jason O’Grady does an unboxing walk-through with Pebble’s latest product.
Hit the break for the rest of my look at the software side of the Pebble.
Let’s start with the appstore
The new iOS app definitely has a better layout that the previous version and provides a lot more info about your installed apps. After you’ve been walked through the Pebble firmware update to 2.0, if you are a current Pebble owner, you start up in the “My Pebble” screen. This shows you the apps and watch faces that are installed, and on the bottom half of the screen is the “Locker” where you can store additional items you have downloaded onto your iPhone. This is empty when you first launch the app. You can then swap items back and forth to your watch. Why do you need to do this? The Pebble can only hold a total of 8 apps or watch faces, and unfortunately 2 slots are already taken up by the default watch faces which you can’t discard. This is one of the first problems I have with the app. Underneath your list of installed items, the app tells you how many slots are used out of the 8, but it doesn’t account for the 2 entrenched watch faces, so when you’ve hit the maximum capacity of the Pebble it still reads as “6/8 Slots Used”. This makes it seem like you have two more available slots, but you don’t. If you aren’t aware of this, you might get frustrated trying to determine why your Pebble says it’s full when you try to load an app.
The top half, which shows your installed apps, is also where you can access settings for each app if required. In the case of the Foursquare app shown here, you have to enter your account login for the app to check you in. Other apps, and watch faces, may have settings for changing the display or features. To swap apps from your locker, you first have to select one of the installed apps (assuming the Pebble is full) and “unload” it from the watch. Then you can select an item from the Locker and “load” it onto the watch. Keep in mind that apps and watch faces with settings may loose them when unloaded from the watch, meaning you will have to re-enter logins and re-customize settings if you load that item back onto the watch later. In this situation, it would be nice if you could simply select the app you wanted to replace and the new app, and the iOS app would do the unloading and loading for you to swap them out. The current method is a bit tedious, so I hope they change that in the future.
Tapping the upper left of the screen takes you to the menu screen. Here you can see the connection status between your watch and iPhone, and navigate to the two sections of the appstore, Watchfaces and Apps. There is also a Support section that provides tutorials, allows you to contact support, test notifications, and check for updates.
Each section has choices for browsing All of the items, Most Loved items, Pebble Essentials (for Apps) / Pebble Picks (for Watchfaces), and the Apps section has the additional Weekly Top Picks. The Apps section has the added benefit of categories which allow you to browse items by their function.
Once we are in the store and browsing items is where the iOS app really falls short. Scrolling through items is met with long pauses while it loads in more items to view. Flicking with your finger to scroll seems to frequently trigger a selection box around the items’ screen preview which will halt scrolling, so you have to be kind of careful about what part of the screen you are touching. And finally, more often then not, while I’m in the middle of scrolling and encountering one of those long pauses, the iOS app will simply crash and I have to start all over again. If the content of the appstore dramatically increases, browsing through it will be tortuously slow. There is a search function which can help somewhat, but from what I can tell none of the items use tags, so the search seems to be using names and possibly the description to find specific items. So searching for “R2D2″ may bring up several results that don’t come up if you search for “Star Wars”. Also, many of the descriptions for the apps are a bit sparse. Pebble should require all developers to include more information. There is also no apparent way to contact a developer if you find a problem with an app or watchface like you can in Apple’s App Store.
What about the PebbleOS version 2.0?
There isn’t a lot to tell about the 2.0 update. It does allow apps like Foursquare and Yelp to go out and grab info through your iPhone rather transparently, and doesn’t require any additional “companion” app. A very nice addition, although simple, is the ability to see the Pebble’s battery level at any given point. Previously, the watch would only throw up a tiny battery symbol when it was nearly out of juice. Now watchfaces can access and display the exact battery level, and indicate whether it is changing or not. The built in battery low warning now pops up and fills the screen until you dismiss it. There are only a few minor changes in the Pebble’s menus. I assume there are many background changes that simply add compatibility with the appstore and additional app functions.
That’s all I’ve detected so far. If you’ve noticed any changes or problems, let us know in the comments.