Panbo

My Pebble, more PAN in Panbo

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Mar 9, 2013
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I've been waiting so long that disappointment loomed large. It was mid-April last year when I became a Kickstarter 'backer' in the Pebble E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android, which really just meant that I might get a good deal by buying one upfront for delivery the following September. But I wasn't the only geek who thought they'd sniffed out a bargain. Though Pebble's Kickstarter goal was only $100,000, almost 69,000 backers sent them over 10 million dollars! Which was neat in the sense that the Pebble people could then make the watch waterproof and add other features, but not so great in that suddenly they had a LOT of watches to build, which took much longer than 'estimated'. However, I've been smiling about Pebble ever since I opened my mailbox last week and found the box with "It's Time" printed on it in large, ironic type...

It took just a few minutes to download the Android version of Pebble's control app and pair the watch with my Verizon Galaxy Nexus phone. The first thing the app did was to (very quickly) update the watch's software, as indicated at left in the photo above (where you can also see the magnetic USB cable used to top up its battery). Then the watch synced to the cell's highly accurate time and was actually ready to go, except that I also found it very easy to install some "Watch Apps"...

Pebble_Android_app_screens_cPanbo.jpg

The screens above are all from the My Pebble app and that middle screen shows Watch Apps I've already installed (and can instantly uninstall by tapping on the "X"). At this point the apps are all alternate watch faces, but Pebble claims that complete control of the device is available to third-party developers. Time will tell, so to speak, but I already appreciate two extra watch faces, Big Time 24 -- which is showing 11am in the top photo, and will be good for night navigation -- and the totally graphic Segment Six, showing about quarter after four (and appealing to my soft, artistic side ;-). While the four-button interface on the Pebble makes it easy to switch apps, all that may seem trivial when you realize what's possible on the Pebble Settings screen (at right above)... 

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Yes, indeed, the Pebble can tell you who's calling when your phone is in your pocket and can even let you read full text messages and partial emails on your wrist. This is particularly valuable to me as I regularly use a fairly exotic Bluetooth headset -- the pair of Phonak hearing aids seen above, which I enthused about in early 2011. The Phonak ComPilot phone interface I upgraded to last year has been a nice improvement for its longer battery life plus volume and "mode" controls, but its ability to verbalize Caller IDs doesn't work with the Nexus phone and I doubt it would be fast enough anyway.

So I'm very happy to report that the Pebble fit into this system perfectly. Both accessories automatically Bluetooth to the phone without issue and now when I get a call I can glance at my wrist to see who it is before pressing (or not pressing) the big button on the ComPilot to answer. And when I get back on the boat next week, the phone will usually be further away than my pocket, safely in a booster cradle with power cable attached. And that's not all, not by any means...

Pebble_Tides_app_cPanbo.jpg

There's another level of Pebble apps that don't load into the watch but instead stand alone on the phone and send it data. There's not many of those yet either, but Pebble Tides strikes me as good sign of things to come. Well, actually it's somewhat pointless now as you have to ask the app each time you want a prediction on the watch, and the app shows more, but if the developer let's you, say, get an automated time and tide level notification an hour before, or right at, each high and low, that would be nice.

In fact, this little network of devices I now wear is beginning to feel like a real Personal Area Network (PAN), which reminds that one possible meaning of "Panbo" -- Yme never told me -- is Personal Area Network BOat. And the extended PAN seen below -- all of which can fit in my cargo pants, though it's not a good look -- suggest where personal networking can go. I showed the Pebble to a friend who works at DeLorme today and, boy, did his wheels start turning about the possibilities of using it for inReach messages and even control, either via a phone or direct over Bluetooth. Inexpensive Iridium satellite messaging right to your wrist...could Dick Tracy have imagined? Plus I was pleased to learn in Miami that the Bad Elves are working on NMEA interfaces that will let the already useful Bad Elf Pro stream boat data over Bluetooth. Is there any reason that a Pebble couldn't eventually do much of what Garmin's highly desirable Quatix does?

Now do note that the Pebble is apparently not yet working as well with iPhones, as detailed in this thorough Slash Gear review, and that there are other 'watches' with similar features out there, like Sony's touchscreen SmartWatch and the MetaWatch. Plus Apple is purportedly working on an iWatch (name still a guess) that has iOS completely built in. But while connected watch choices seem about to happen in a big way, this not-as-early-as-he-wanted adopter is quite happy with his Pebble.

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Comments

App support to display NMEA 2000 data pages would be very compelling.

Posted by: Paul at March 9, 2013 11:11 PM | Reply

Ben,
I'm curious as to whether the display is actually readable? There are some things I just don't do on my iphone because the screen is just too darn small, even though it's a 5. I've even refrained from an ipad and continue to stick with a procession of 15" MBPro's, where there's room to at least zoom the text and still not have to scroll hither and yon to read something...

For those of us with aging eyes, there's a point where even glasses don't help...

john

Posted by: John Hinckley at March 10, 2013 12:15 AM | Reply

Can't believe I never told you... 'Pan' was short for Personal Area Network indeed, but the 'bo' was short for Bosma, my last name... I originally registered the domain when I first learned about Bluetooth and its networking capabilities. In my vision (not only mine by the way), a watch would become a very important part of that network. And I had dreams of building one. That appeared too dificult at that time, so when I started this blog I still had the domain and used it. With this post I guess we are back at the beginning;-)

Posted by: Yme Bosma at March 10, 2013 3:14 AM | Reply

Very cool watch Ben. Do Panbots now dream of electric sheep? And thanks Yme, I always wondered where the name came from.

Posted by: Bill Bishop at March 10, 2013 8:34 AM | Reply

«a Pebble couldn't eventually do much of what Garmin's highly desirable Quatix does?»

Are there industry standards so that if a device properly hooked into the NMEA 2000 net sends a MOB, all relevant N2K devices such as chart plotters and possibly autopilots will receive and display the MOB location from the third-party N2K MOB-sending unit?

If this is were the case, then any properly programmed third-party devices, such as a Pebble, wirelessly connected to the N2K net through a gateway compatible to the device (such as a Digital Yacht NavLink Plus Nmea2000 to Wifi or a Garmin GNT-10 to ANT), should be able to execute this MOB function?

Posted by: Xavier Itzmann at March 10, 2013 9:40 AM | Reply

Thanks, Yme! And congratulations on your son Jesse (excellent name ;-), your marriage, and your catamaran adventure. Wow. Here's hoping there's more family boating in your future...with WANs, LANs, and PANs included.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Yme Bosma at March 10, 2013 9:43 AM | Reply

Interesting question, Xavier. I can't find any mention of MOB or "overboard" in NMEA's N2K database or the PDF you can download that includes field descriptions. However, the new 3.0 Edition includes a set of Alert PGNs that are supposed to be very powerful.

I was mostly thinking that apps and WiFi/Bluetooth links could do the NMEA data streaming the Quatix does, maybe some of the sail racing features too (in conjunction with a phone app). But I suppose it's vaguely possible that a watch like this might also do the active MOB detection that is included in the Quatix/GarminNetwork system.

I noticed that at least one other smart watch has a link alarm so you know if it's broken its Bluetooth connection with the phone. Active MOB is just the reverse alarm. I'm a little skeptical, though, and wouldn't even count on the Quatix being usable that way until actually tested on one's particular boat.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Xavier Itzmann at March 10, 2013 10:19 AM | Reply

John, The Pebble display isn't anything like any phone or tablet I've seen. It's more like the Furuno FI-50 monochrome instruments, which seem to achieve maximum clarity in direct sunlight. Then again right now I'm only working with a low Maine sun that rarely comes out! Plus the fonts used for texts and notifications are pretty small (see Pebble Tides above).

One neat thing about the Pebble's backlighting is that you can turn it on by just flicking your wrist.

Posted by: Ben in reply to John Hinckley at March 10, 2013 10:24 AM | Reply

By the way, the last photo also demonstrates the audio track title display and control app that comes in the Pebble. It works great with Google Music on the phone, and is easier to use for pausing or advancing tracks.

Also PocketNow did a good video review of the Pebble:

http://pocketnow.com/2013/03/06/life-on-a-pebble-smartwatch

Posted by: Ben at March 10, 2013 11:18 AM | Reply

Is it seriously waterproof? JIS7?
A

Posted by: Alex at March 10, 2013 12:22 PM | Reply

http://getpebble.com/#faq

Q. Is it waterproof?
A. Pebble is rated at 5 ATM, tested for both fresh and saltwater. You can swim with your Pebble and change tracks while in the shower.

http://deloachwatchservice.com/other_stuff/water_resistancy.htm

Depth Rating: 50 Meters - 165 Feet - 5 ATM

Usage: A watch with this level of resistance is wearable around household sinks, while playing sports and while swimming in shallow water. Do not wear it while bathing, snorkeling or scuba diving.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Alex at March 10, 2013 12:36 PM | Reply

How about fire hose conditions on the rail?

Posted by: Paul in reply to Ben at March 10, 2013 3:51 PM | Reply

I'm just reporting what I read, Paul. Garmin seems to be claiming a similar 5-bar 50m rating for the Quatix. The rating style seems common for watches but not nearly as well defined as IPx1-7 type ratings.

I'm not saying that the Pebble is as rugged as the Quatix; I doubt that very much. It might be interesting to compare warranties. Here's the Pebble 1 year --
http://getpebble.com/pages/warranty -- but I can't find anything for Quatix.

Sorry, but I don't plan to point high pressure hoses at my new watch in the near future.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Paul at March 10, 2013 4:18 PM | Reply

Fire hoses sometimes have the last word. It was a 69kt squall that killed my last cellphone. Being a sailor I did not have an enclosed cabin from which to navigate.

I went to the site and found:

"This warranty does not apply: ...(iii) defects or damage caused by misuse, accident (including without limitation collision, fire and the spillage of food or liquid,... unusual stress..."

This device, interesting as it may be, is not ready for maritime prime time as far as I can see. The warranty suggests it's not ready for lunch with a two year old.

Posted by: Alex at March 10, 2013 5:20 PM | Reply

Have you compared it to other warranties, Alex? Here's a general Garmin one with some similar language:

http://www8.garmin.com/support/warranty.html

But I don't see how the Pebble language would absolve them if the watch fails when you do something like "swim with your Pebble and change tracks while in the shower" as claimed possible. But I do get how it wouldn't be covered if you accidentally dropped a sizzling steak or lye-based cleaning liquid on it.

Did you have your cell in a "waterproof" case during the squall?

Posted by: Ben in reply to Alex at March 10, 2013 6:14 PM | Reply

There wil surely be more boating adventures in the near future. Now that we've sold the cat I'm in the process of designing and building an all electric and solar powered motorboat ( http://arviro.com/ ). Full of WAN's and PAN's;-)

Posted by: Yme Bosma in reply to Ben at March 13, 2013 1:59 PM | Reply

Thanks Ben for all the info and it's so informative, and in so many ways . . love it.

Hey Yme, take a look at www.independencegreenyachts.com and see how it compares with your concepts . . . looks like the sign of things to come . . . could prove interesting.

Keep writing you guys . . . at least this is one newbie who loves reading and thinking about what could and can be . .

Posted by: Dadrock33 at March 18, 2013 4:27 PM | Reply

Thanks, Dadrock, and I agree that Yme's project is really interesting. Maybe I can get him to write about all those systems and why he chose them ;-)

And now a Pebble update. It's been 8 days since I charged it and it's finally showing a low battery warning, which is better than advertised. I still like getting caller ID, texts, and other notifications like WeatherBug on it, and I'm fairly convinced that a phone-connected watch of some sort will always be on my wrist.

I did discover one issue with the Pebble, though. It's fairly tall and my wrist is fairly small, so when I'm at a desk the watch is sometimes touching its surface, which means that the normally mild vibration to get my attention can become a rather startling "rat-a-tat-tat".

Posted by: Ben at March 18, 2013 11:14 PM | Reply

Thanks Dadrock, I didn't know about that project. I did have a look at the hydrogen/solargenerator concept before, but it didn't really seem feasible nor efficient at this stage. The Independence 60 feels more like a concept study. But accoring to their website they were present at MIBS, you saw them there?

Once the boat is finished I'd love to write a guest-blog Ben! Currently hard at work with different suppliers to make sure I choose the right systems.

Posted by: Yme Bosma in reply to Dadrock33 at March 19, 2013 3:09 AM | Reply

Oh oh! Reader and single-hander Mike just told me about the Vaavud smartphone wind speed meter and now I'm a Kickstarter backer. But shouldn't we encourage young sailors to get into marine electronics?

http://vaavud.com/

Posted by: Ben at March 19, 2013 3:15 PM | Reply

Awww, come on, liquid includes water, HOH, sometimes with salt in it, Ben. I find this site extremely valuable and well done. But consumer toys intended for impressing geek chicks at a latte bar just aren't interesting. And as to Garmin's warranty, if it says the same, shame on them.

Back to sailing where water blows in the cockpit.

Posted by: Alex in reply to Ben at March 19, 2013 5:05 PM | Reply

Hey, Alex, I'm on the boat now and had my hands over the side last night cleaning fish. The Pebble survived!

I've been thinking about that 69 knot squall that somehow killed your cell phone. I think I have around 20,000 miles under sail, and maybe half that under power, and much of it in open ocean...and I don't believe I've ever experienced 69 knots of wind, not even close.

So you may be pre-disastered (reference: Life According to Garp). Heck, you might be able to get away with a Mickey Mouse watch.

By the way, I went looking for a watch rated to JIS7 like you want, and I can't find a thing.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Alex at March 19, 2013 10:02 PM | Reply

I have ny Pebble on on my wrist as I type this! I can't wait to get my hands on a descent SDK (programming environment) for this thing, as the possibilities are near endless. I doubt we'll see it in time for anything this season, but hopefully well in time for next.

Posted by: Jim Archer at April 8, 2013 5:01 PM | Reply

I suspect Apple will wipe out these with iWatch.

Posted by: madscientist at April 11, 2013 7:39 AM | Reply

Easy to say, but how exactly will that work? Will Apple make their watch compatible with Android, Windows, and Blackberry smart phones? Or will it be a standalone device?

There are numerous ways to design a smart watch and personally I'm liking how the Pebble serves mainly as a simple extension of my phone (with the capability of simple apps). By the way, my Pebble is getting over a week between battery charges and has survived many dunkings.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how Apple plays it. Much speculation here: http://goo.gl/GSSLD

Posted by: Ben in reply to madscientist at April 11, 2013 8:24 AM | Reply

For anyone interested, we just released a free racing countdown timer app for the Pebble. Its a 5-4-1-0 countdown with some nice features, including the ability to count down as all seconds. Freely available here:

http://ontargetmarine.com/were-releasing-first-build-free-pebble-smartwatch-start-application

Posted by: Jim at October 4, 2013 2:26 AM | Reply

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