Mobile recap: Pebble Time; Pixel 2 coming; Apple Watch questions

After selling one million of its original Pebble watches, the company is zigging when the competition is zagging. Pebble Time is the next product in the line, and while it adds new features and a new interface, the watch isn’t likely to be confused with either an Android Wear or Apple Watch.

pebble time timeline

That’s because Pebble Time is a gently improved watch that doesn’t sacrificing the original product’s of core strengths. It still has an e-paper display and should run for a week on a charge, for example. Pebble Time will also still work with both [company]Apple[/company] iOS and [company]Google[/company] Android handsets; there’s been some chatter and evidence of Windows Phone support, but it’s still not coming from Pebble.

So what’s new and better with Pebble Time? The device is a little wider but thinner and has a color e-paper screen. It also has a microphone for responding to notifications or dictating quick notes. And the software uses a timeline to help you manage your days, even though all of the old Pebble apps and watchfaces will still be available. Clearly, this package resounded well: Pebble Time has already surpassed its original then-record funding amount on Kickstarter and has raised nearly $11.5 million at time of writing.

While we have all of the details on Pebble Time, we don’t have the same for the Apple Watch. That’s likely to change soon, however: Apple is holding a press event on March 9, where it’s expected to launch the watch with shipping to follow in April.

Apple Watch launch event

Even though I attended the September event that introduced us to Apple Watch last year, I’m waiting for Apple to show off some additional features that will make the device a compelling purchase. I see much potential in Apple Watch but not yet a “killer feature” or must-have application. Google Now on the wrist is that feature for some with Android Wear; Siri isn’t there yet but perhaps she’ll get an upgrade soon.

Two-Pixels

One device that is getting an upgrade is Google’s Chromebook Pixel. Google confirmed that a new model is coming soon, although no details have been provided yet. I outlined my thoughts this week: Expect few if any changes on the outside of the Chromebook Pixel 2; instead, look for a new fifth-generation Intel chip and some radio upgrades. Hopefully, we see a price drop as well, although I’m leery that will happen.

This may be why the Pebble isn’t supported on Windows Phone

Earlier this week, I noted an internal Microsoft Windows Phone app that works with the Pebble smartwatch. Now a detailed report from Windows Central adds more background about the reason for the app and why Pebble itself isn’t working on adding Windows Phone support to its smartwatch.

As you might expect, the core issue isn’t a technical one, as Windows Phone 8.1 supports Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy. Instead, it appears to be a political problem even though Pebble itself may not want to devote effort to Windows Phone and it’s relatively low marketshare.

pebble notifications wp

Microsoft reportedly worked hard with Pebble to show how its smartphones could support the watch, even building a full app — likely the internal one we spotted this week — to help move the relationship forward. The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be much of a relationship because Pebble’s founder and CEO, Eric Migicovsky isn’t interested in one. From the Windows Central report:

“Despite Microsoft’s attempts to win over Pebble, Migicovsky is reportedly not a fan of the company nor their mobile operating system. The young entrepreneur reportedly nixed any partnership.

Growing up in a world where Google and Apple have dominated the mobile scene, this perception that Microsoft is old and out of touch is seemingly more frequent these days. Particularly with those under 30 (see Snapchat’sEvan Spiegel for a similar attitude). Even Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was unable to persuade him personally.”

After Windows Central published its post, Migicovsky took to Twitter refuting it, saying he has’t spent much time with Microsoft’s CEO and that the rest of the story is also inaccurate:

In a related development, the Pebble team participated in a Reddit “ask me anything” session on Wednesday to discuss the new Pebble Time watch and the company acknowledged third-party Windows Phone app support, reiterating it does not have a Windows Phone app of it own. There wasn’t any mention of even considering it, even though various other feature requests got a general “we’ll think about it” answer.

If the Windows Central report is even partially correct, it’s a shame because it sounds as if Microsoft was willing to do all of the app development on Pebble’s behalf for its watch. And why not, when it would make Microsoft’s handsets a little more appealing, particularly to those who also own or want a Pebble.

pebble action

In that case, Pebble itself has nothing to lose, but of course the devil’s in the details: Perhaps there’s more to this story than just a CEO’s alleged dislike of a company. My hope is that whatever issues remain, they’re worked out. At the end of the day, it’s consumer choice that’s suffering here in both the phone and smartwatch products.

Microsoft is working on Pebble support for Windows Phone

This week’s Kickstarter darling, the Pebble Time smartwatch, has much to offer — if you use an iPhone or Android handset, that is. Pebble doesn’t officially support Windows Phone, and although a Microsoft employee was tinkering to fix that last year, it hasn’t happened yet. Based on an app in the Windows Phone store, however, that may be changing.

WMPowerUser noticed the app for Windows Phone 8.1 devices, which is an internal [company]Microsoft[/company] test build of something called Pebble Notifications. The app description spills the beans and even includes a link for notes:

Pebble application for Windows Phone. This is an internal test application to get feedback on Accessory Ecosystem Support feature in WP Blue GDR1. Fore mode details refer to https://www.yammer.com/microsoft.com/notes/1362520

I don’t have access to read the notes or to install the app. Yes, I tried.

pebble notifications wp

Clearly, this is for Microsoft testing only at the moment, but based on the screen shots, the app looks as if it would be very handy if you wanted to use a Pebble smartwatch with a Windows Phone.

There’s no guarantee that Microsoft will ever publicly release the software, of course. But if it wants to make Windows Phone more attractive to potential buyers, it would make sense for the company to get its platform working with as many third-party devices and services as possible, even if it has to do the software work on its own.

While Microsoft could simply be using the Pebble to test Windows Phone notifications over Bluetooth, it strikes me as odd in one sense.

The Microsoft Band already supports notifications (and more) with Windows Phone. Why bother testing with the Pebble if you have your own hardware to work with? Even odder is that the test app for Pebble Notifications was updated within the past week. That suggests to me that Microsoft may release this app in the future, but of course, only Microsoft knows at this point.

Leaked image may show Pebble’s new colorful watch

Last week we saw a countdown timer on Pebble’s website, suggesting the company may introduce its next smartwatch Tuesday morning. On Monday, an image from Pebble’s own servers shows what the new device may look like.

pebble-2-smartwatch

9to5 Google found the image, which shows a wider but similar watch to the current Pebble, which works with both [company]Apple[/company] iPhones and Google Android handsets.

The most noticeable difference is the yellow background color; up to now Pebble smartwatches have used low-power, e-ink monochrome displays to help the watches run for several days on a charge. The image shown has the same button placement as prior Pebble watches, with one on the left and three on the right.

pebble action

Earlier this month, Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky said new hardware was on the way. I had figured this meant a more radical redesign, but based on the picture, it appears that Pebble is refining its current hardware. There’s nothing wrong with that and it surely keeps production costs down as opposed to creating a completely different design.

I’m more intrigued by the software we’ll find inside a new Pebble, though.

The company hired some of the old webOS team and Migicovsky noted that the watch interface will be different; there will still be apps but they won’t be the focus. Based on the image of a notification, it could be that these take center stage in some new way, similar to [company]Google[/company] Now. We should know for sure tomorrow at 10 a.m. ET when the countdown ends.

Mobile recap: LoopPay vs. Apple Pay; new Pebble; LG Watch Urbane

Samsung has a new way to fight back against Apple and it has nothing to do with Google. This week, Samsung bought LoopPay; a company that adds mobile payments to phones using a magnetic field. Early reports and rumors about Samsung’s Galaxy S6 handset — expected to debut on March 1 — suggested a LoopPay tie-in.

Loop mobile payments

Google may not like it, but the acquisition gives Samsung a digital payment solution of its own, although the company can certainly still offer [company]Google[/company] Wallet on its Android devices. Google’s Wallet, four years in the making, hasn’t really resounded with consumers though. I’ve been using the service on and off since 2011 with Android phones that have an NFC chip inside them but retailers have been slow to adopt or support Wallet. That’s in stark contrast to [company]Apple[/company] Pay, which is a successful twist on the same NFC technology.

While LoopPay will work for now in the U.S. by spoofing the magnetic card stripe on current payment cards, Samsung will have to adopt it for the upcoming change in payments here. Samsung will need to create bank partnerships for EMV payments; essentially, we’re getting a payment card upgrade here later this year, which will require LoopPay to work with chip-and-PIN cards. LoopPay knew of this transition, so it’s not completely in the dark; we’ll see how it handles the change in a few months.

pebble action

Before then, we may have a new smartwatch or wearable device from Pebble. The company, which ran a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012 for its current smartwatch, is expected to announce something on Tuesday of this week. That’s based on a countdown timer that’s been busily ticking away since Thursday.

While we have no idea what Pebble is counting down for, the company did say earlier this month that it would be launching new hardware this year, along with a unique software interface. Perhaps we’ll get a glimpse of a new watch this week; hopefully, it’s not just a new band for the existing Pebble.

lg watch urbane gold

 

Even if Pebble does launch a new smartwatch, it’s going to compete with more Android Wear devices. The latest, LG’s Watch Urbane, hides its smarts in what looks like a very traditional analog timepiece. The stainless steel Urbane will be available in gold or silver finishes, uses the same 1.3-inch circular plastic OLED touchscreen display as the existing G Watch R and is aimed for the upscale smartwatch market.

Countdown clock suggests new Pebble product next week

It looks as though on Tuesday at 7am PT next week Pebble will announce…. something.

pebble countdown

I’m basing that the not very subtle countdown ticker currently on Pebble’s home page. Based on the time remaining, we have five days to figure out, speculate and predict what’s happening with Pebble. But we’re not completely in the dark.

It was just a few weeks ago that Pebble CEO, Eric Migicovsky, said the company would have both new hardware and software later this year. The current Pebble watches haven’t seen a major hardware upgrade yet — at least not from an internals standpoint — so a new product with more sensors and perhaps voice command capabilities wouldn’t surprise me.

Hardware is the easy part to predict though; Migicovsky’s comments about the software for a new Pebble product are far more intriguing. “It doesn’t look like what we have today, and it doesn’t look like what’s on your smartphone,” Migicovsky told The Verge, adding that apps will be part of the product, but not the focus.

That suggests to me that some type of contextual interface along with health-tracking, but of course, that’s just an educated guess. As it stands now, with the latest software update, the current Pebble watch can interact with Android Wear notifications but it lacks many of the other features found in [company]Google[/company]’s smartwatch platform. I can perform a search or ask for my agenda by voice on the Smartwatch 3 I bought; not so on the Pebble.

Regardless, we’ll have to wait at least five more days to find out what Pebble has in store for your wrist. Let the speculation begin!