Aaron Sumner


Pebble Time makes UX fun again!

I'll admit to being relatively ambivalent to smartwatches in general. I suppose I recognize some of the benefits. Notifications can be useful. Smartwatches are OK as fitness trackers, if you're not using something more tuned to tracking fitness. But I'm still trying to figure out things like apps. Like, I saw a guy at the Dallas airport a few weeks ago, getting his boarding pass scanned by awkwardly flipping his arm upside down across the scanner. You have to really not want to get out your phone in situations like that.

But this isn't really about smartwatches, or apps. See, I've been playing around with a Pebble Time watch for a couple of months now. I was curious if actually having a smartwatch strapped to my wrist would change my opinion. The price was right, at less than half the price of an entry-level Apple Watch (I got the best price by buying directly from Pebble, by the way). I don't care to write up a full review. I will say that the fitness tracker doesn't seem as reliable or accurate as the Fitbit One model I've kept in my pocket for years, and I still don't get the draw of apps on my wrist. (Maybe I'm just using the wrong apps.) The hardware isn't glamorous, but it's functional. And it looks much nicer than the decidedly not-smart Casio sport watch I'd worn for the past decade or so.

I'd rather focus on the big thing that's stood out for me: Pebble Time is a fun watch. Fun in a way that Apple seemed to forget how to do when Jony Ive took over software design. Custom watch faces are cheesy, but fun. (I keep going back to the Simple Weather face, even though when we have rainy weather, it makes me think my watch has the Heartbleed vulnerability.)

My favorite bits are the simple drawings and animations, such as the whoosh of a dismissed alert, the paper airplane of a sent message, the happy sunshine on tomorrow's schedule, and especially the sneaky mouse when quiet time gets enabled or disabled. They're intentionally simple line drawings with simple animations, but that's part of the appeal–Pebble embraced the constraints of a tiny, relatively low-res screen, and made the very most of it. The friendly language used by the built-in fitness tracker has a nice tone to it (Fitbit does this fairly well, too), in a way that seems less matter-of-fact than Siri tends to be.

I want to steal these ideas for my software projects and their interfaces! I want cute, simple animations that make users smile without eating up bandwidth. I want language that's more sympathetic than User was successfully destroyed (ouch!). I want to make my user experience fun, too!

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