Pebble announces powered Smartstrap extensibility support for Pebble Time

PebbleTimeSet

It’s only been a week since Pebble’s last announcement, the new Pebble Time. That watch blasted through nearly $11M in Kickstarter sales through the end of the first weekend.  Now, Pebble has made another announcement while at MWC in Barcelona that’s further driven their Kickstarter progress – currently at over $15M USD.

It’s this new announcement that’s actually slightly more interesting to me.  No, not the secondary announcement of the new Pebble Time Steel edition, but rather the announcement of the strap extensibility.  But, before I get there, yes, I’ll show you the Steel edition shots I took:

I’ll give credit where credit is due in that Pebble’s secondary announcement of the Steel edition is pretty brilliant marketing. Timed a week after the initial announcement it effectively gives reason for media outlets to cover them and thus more potential for new Kickstarter backers (or for existing backers to upgrade).  And of course, it looks nice too – though, all of the new watches look pretty clean.

PebbleTimeAssortment

But the real focus of this post is the band piece.  Sure, many watches support the ability to swap out a watch band for a different color or material.  But actually supplying power to those straps?  Well, that’s a whole new ballgame.

And that’s exactly what Pebble has done here.  Going forward with all Pebble Time units, there’s the ability to allow 3rd parties to design strap/band replacements that could have powered functions, in addition of course to non-powered accessory straps.

The way it works is that first you’ll remove the existing strap using the little quick release system:

PebbleTime-Back

Next, you’ll see on the back of the Pebble Time there are power connectors.  But you’ll notice one set is recessed, whereas the other is more flush.  It’s this design, combined with the two notches you see on the edge of the watch in between the watch band poles – that creates a power connector ‘port’ for powered accessory bands.

PebbleTime-Unit

PebbleTime-StrapDisconnected

You can see the ‘lip’ that encloses it a little bit better in these renderings from Pebble:

image

So what’s the real world use here?  Tons of things. See, one of the biggest draws of Pebble over most other smart watches is the low battery usage along with extensive app store of 3rd party creations. The idea here with the Smartstrap is that it can extend the 3rd party piece to hardware as well as software apps.

For example, from an athletic standpoint the strap could be used to house a GPS antenna for Pebble (which it lacks).  One could envision a scenario where someone like 4iiii takes their GPS pod concept and builds it into a Smartstrap band directly.  Similarly, they could do the same with their optical HR sensor pod, attaching it to Pebble. Alternatively, with a project like the Spark Electron, one could add 3G/4G connectivity to the Pebble directly, thus enabling Live Tracking or other scenarios.

The strap would also give it flexibility to compete better with the likes of the Apple Watch.  One could extend the strap to include NFC, for contactless payments – a feature the Apple Watch has.  This would enable you to finish your run and swing by the café without having to carry your wallet on you.  The world is somewhat of an oyster for developers, in that the SDK is being extended to the strap – so developers are able to create all sorts of crazy things to accompany the apps that developers could already create.

Now since this concept is relatively unproven, it’ll be interesting to watch both the product mature as well as how well it actually works in execution.  For example, will something like saltwater impact the contacts during active powering of the band?  And what’s the real-world lifespan of that connector that will invariably have some slight wiggle?  All questions that really only time will answer…no pun intended.

PebbleTimewithEric

For those that are curious about the Pebble Time itself, I did get to spend a bit of time with the watch over the course of a few days.  While it’s certainly not finalized yet, I was generally impressed with it.  Most notably, I was astounded with the speed and response of the screen.  It was virtually instantaneous.  I think I was expecting a bit of lag – but it was very quick.  In talking with Eric, he noted it’s fully capable of displaying 30 frames per second, within those 64 colors it can display. Obviously you’re not likely to watch season three of House of Cards on it, but it does give a fair bit of flexibility for other scenarios.

Which is to a large degree the goal of Pebble from the start: Giving developers the ability to create what they want on the platform.  Now of course it’s a much different market than it was when Pebble first launched three years ago.  There are competitor platforms in-market today with apps on devices (Android Wear), another coming just a month away (Apple Watch), with yet more from fitness incumbents like Garmin (Connect IQ).  Still, with over a million existing Pebble devices, and already 62,000+ Pebble Time units ordered – the Pebble team is certainly in a better position than most.

Thanks for reading!

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25 Comments

  1. tender

    I have a Pebble Steel and backed the Pebble Time kickstarter. Should be interesting to see what hardware and software devs come up with for the Smartstraps. I currently use a Garmin Forerunner 620 and Scosche Rhythm+ (tried the MIO Link, but that did not work on my wrists). Like always, great review!

  2. Stephen

    It appears that the powered section of the watch band would be facing down when worn on the left wrist. This seems like it would be an issue for a GPS antenna. I guess you could flip the watch upside down to reverse the powered end of the watch band but then the buttons would be on the opposite side of the watch and the watch face would be upside down (could be fixed with S/W).

    • Brock

      I recall hearing that it is reversible to allow it to be used on either hand. of course that still leaves the problem of the buttons on the wrong side, but that shouldn’t be too hard to compensate for.

  3. Hugo

    I like the idea of the watch and the possible added functionality via external sensors. Pebble focus is a watch and they add extra functionality only if needed. I applaud the fact that they didn’t add a HR sensor like most other watches have.
    But having a strap with a GPS antenna makes sense to me. Imagine you bought the metal edition. One morning you decide to go for a run but taking one of the supplied straps doesn’t make much sense. So why not put a plastic strap which has a GPS antenna? I think it makes sense and I’d love they could integrate with Garmin Connect.

  4. Kieran

    The “accessory port” itself sounded a bit off to me at first, but when you think about the potential of “smart straps” it is in my opinion, one of the biggest innovations in the field. The sort that the likes of Apple would never allow. Time will tell how good these are though. The power could be a potential issue though.

  5. lgallion

    Kieran, the specs call for the strap to draw a small amount of power from the watch OR the watch can actually contain batteries and even power the watch itself. Theoretically you could have an ‘uber’ strap that had a camera, GPS, speaker, blender (OK maybe not a blender) and a variety of other sensors with the batteries to power that (you would have to charge it separately, of course). How practical is yet to be proven but at least the idea is possible with the smart strap.

  6. morey000

    very cool. but really, we’re all waiting for tomorrow’s review from you. 🙂
    (Fenix 3)

    • Yup, it’ll be up tomorrow. Not quite as Midnight eastern, but more around lunch European time or so. Have a few photos left I need to grab outside during daylight hours.

    • BWinter

      And tomorrow after reading the review some European readers would like to (pre)order one.
      Any news on the progress of the European DC Rainmaker support warehouse?

    • There is indeed progress, we talked today about it and they’re in the site testing phase now. I’m being told about 4 weeks till a soft-launch. Good stuff though (and I know it’s been a long haul, but so is setting up operations in Europe).

  7. David

    Biggest problem is that DC Voltage + Sweat = (potentially) bad things. Accelerated corrosion of the power contacts and possibly a shorting of the power nodes. How will they prevent sweat from reaching those power contacts?

  8. Anton

    Smart straps are ok I guess, but I’m rather hoping for a way for the Pebble to communicate over BLE with external pods. I’d like to keep my HR-strap, my foot pod and wouldn’t mind carry an external gps like Polar had not long ago.

    If that was possible it wouldn’t take long before we’d see kickass applications capable of exporting tcx files and what not.

  9. Hugo

    Hey Ray. Do you own a Pebble? And, if so, do you ever use it? I wonder.

    Cheers.

  10. Kyle

    I had a pebble…it was alright. The pebble time really doesn’t interest me, i mean look at that bezel. Its huge. All it does it display notifications. I had a moto360 for sometime too but ended up returning it. I am glad Garmin put activity tracking and notifications into their watch. Also the battery life in it is amazing. Between everything the watch does and the added features i just listed, thats a smartwatch to me, personally.

  11. Bachoo

    plus the whole talking into your watch screams “gimmick” there is simply little practical use for that. People love the idea of a “Dick Tracey” watch, but are you going to send notes to anyone, anywhere in public by talking into your watch. I think not.

  12. don

    Since they have an SDK, could we see something like the following?

    * ANT+ strap
    * On-watch app that shows All ANT+ devices’ info

    How much power can the strap get to run?

  13. rock

    Anyone know how to make a duathlon profile for run bike run?
    I tried to creat one but i cant seem to find speed and cadence senensor on my created profile.
    I dont see tha cadense profile. And i want to seperate the run bike run. Just like in the tri profile. Thanks

  14. Lauren

    Can you do a review on the Pebble or the Pebble Steel (I’m more interested in the Steel version but either would work), I want to know about accuracy with things like step counting, calories, sleep and swim tracking.. I’ve heard mixed reviews that’re all over the place with some people adoring it and call it incredibly accurate for them and some people saying it’s a piece of junk and you’re better off getting a fitness tracker for those things. My main uses would be for swimming, hikes and weight training (with HRM) and I was leaning towards the polar loop but the fact that the pebble can supposedly track swim distances and strokes now, is really appealing to me, but if it falls short in the other areas, obviously I’m not as interested in just a really expensive distance tracker for swimming. I’m dying to know what you think because I trust your reviews!!! Thanks Ray!

  15. Mimmo

    But this smartwatch is also for swimming ?

  16. Alan

    Can the Pebble be used as a heart rate monitor with something like a Polar H7 strap or a Scosche Rhythm+?

  17. alan mushnick

    The review of this seems long overdue. Even a “quick look” shorter review would be very useful. I can’t find out anywhere if this picks up bluetooth smart to be used as a heart rate receiver. Or if there is a Polar or other fitness App for it.
    thank you in advance for any information.

    • Roel

      It is currently not possible to pair a Pebble Time directly to a bluetooth sensor. As I’ve read somewhere thats gonna be an update (but still unannounced). I use my Pebble Time with my iPhone 5 and the ap iSmoothrun. The app allows you to set up different screens and works perfectly with my Wahoo RPM and Polar H6 HRM. But unfortunately you always need to catty your phone with you.