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Review: Pebble smart watch is worth the hype

post #1 of 63
Thread Starter 
Pebble, the famed Kickstarter smart watch project that raised well over $10 million, has been enjoying a huge amount of media hype thanks in no small part to its tens of thousands of backers. The buzz is well-founded; Pebble is good and getting better by the minute.

Pebble


Hardware



First, the watch: The Pebble may not be elegant in the way that traditional wristwatches can be, but it's well-designed, minimalist and waterproof down to 165 feet. Available in black, white, red, orange, and gray colorways, the watch's plastic casing includes 22mm lugs so users can replace the included strap with any 22mm band or bracelet.

The screen is an easy-to-read 1.26-inch backlit e-paper display with a resolution of 144-by-168 pixels. Despite the relatively low pixel density, the screen had no trouble displaying details like an envelope message indicator or small status bar icons like musical notes. Unlike displays in other portable devices, the panel on the Pebble is easy to read in sunlight, while the backlight can be activated in dark environments with a flick of the wrist thanks to the built-in accelerometer. The angle-of-view is very wide, making it perfect for glancing at casually while driving, or performing quick message checks without fumbling for the connected phone.

Pebble Menu


In order to make the most out of the watch face-sized screen, text is drawn at a reasonable height for notifications, meaning users don't have to squint to read incoming messages and alerts. Rather than shrinking the text of longer messages to fit on the display, Pebble has chosen to make the text height larger which requires scrolling. This is a smart choice.

Pebble Message


The Pebble connects to the iPhone using Bluetooth. It appears from hardware teardowns that it has Bluetooth Smart (aka Bluetooth Low Energy, aka Bluetooth 4.0) but does not appear to be using BTLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) at this time. Even so, the unit can go for about 5 or 6 days on a charge.

The charging system is akin to Apple's MacBook Pro, with a magnetic charging cable attaching to contacts on the left side of the watch. Any USB adapter can charge the device, but the specialized cable is a necessity.

Pebble Charger
Pebble's proprietary charging cable.



Usability



To navigate Pebble's interface, there is one menu button on the left, and scroll up, scroll down and select buttons on the right. Button feel is mostly responsive and consistent across all actuators, though some may be turned off by the lack of the firm "click" found with mechanical watches.

In use, the buttons work the same way in almost every application. Upper-left backs up the menu tree. Upper-right navigates up a menu list, lower-right navigates down a menu list and center-right selects a menu item. The layout only differs in Bluetooth setup, the music player and handling incoming calls. In those cases, Pebble shows transport controls for music, or an "X" or "V" to hangup or accept phone calls. As a side note, caller ID for an incoming call is displayed on the Pebble's screen.

Pebble Music


With the latest firmware version 1.9, which came out on March 18, the menus are easier than ever to navigate. Music, Set Alarm, Watchfaces, and Settings are the top level. Watchfaces and Settings act like folders to the next level down the tree. Watchfaces has about six different options from which to choose, though more are available via the iOS app. When the watch times out after showing a notification or sitting in a menu, it reverts to the last selected watchface. The Settings menu contains options for the backlight, font size, and Bluetooth.

Pebble Menu


Out of the box, Pebble works as advertised. When a notification arrives on the iPhone (SMS, email, or others alerts you've toggled) it almost instantly causes the Pebble to vibrate and display the message on the screen. If the message is too long, you can read through it using the aforementioned up and down scroll buttons. After a few minutes of idling, Pebble will automatically revert back to the preselected watchface.

The Pebble team's work to polish small, seemingly insignificant facets of the user interface really speak to the overall quality of the device and its software. For example, in the video below, you can see the the firmware update process is visualized as a "water flow" from iPhone to Pebble. It's this attention to detail that makes the Pebble impressive.



Future Potential



Because Pebble is almost like having a tiny computer on your wrist, developers can take advantage of the platform to create a number of apps custom made for various features not included in the stock software package.

For example, Hexxeh of Hexxeh.net wrote a bit of code called "libpebble" which adds button event handling of desktop OS apps to Pebble, granting users control of iTunes, PowerPoint, and Keynote. Those interested in the project can find the PowerPoint on Windows code here, and the fork of "libpebble" that controls iTunes and Keynote here. Note: Use "python p.py remote itunes" for iTunes control and "python p.py remote keynote" for Keynote control after your pebble is paired with your Mac.

In addition, a Pebble team member has forked "libpebble" and is currently making improvements to it, while a .NET version of the code exists as a non-straight port. All of these efforts are coming from a small but interested developer community, meaning that Pebble is getting better through first party development as well as amazing developer volunteers. More information can be found at the wiki for developer hacking at pebbledev.org and an IRC channel at chat.freenode.net #pebble.

Pebble Update


The latest Pebble update heralds the release of the watchface SDK. Currently, the Pebble Kickstarter page advises "Important note: the proof-of-concept Pebble watchface SDK will not enable access to the accelerometer (or magnetometer), or communication between watchfaces and smartphones (among other major deficiencies)."

This jibes with information I've been hearing from people who have seen the SDK, who said the package seems to just cover the drawing of text, images and defined paths. One thing that's still missing, that they're hoping to add soon, is the saving of watchfaces data across launches. The advantage would be instead of needing a 12 hour and 24 hour version of the watch, they can have that be a setting, and that setting will be remembered. The SDK as it currently stands (and Pebble is calling it a "proof-of-concept SDK") contains the ability to draw custom fonts and layout on the screen, but no ability for watchfaces to retain settings like world clock timezone preferences.

Pebble PowerPoint
"libpebble controlling Microsoft's PowerPoint.


Personally, I'm still looking forward to IFTTT.com (If This Then That) integration. Pebble has been very transparent about the proof-of-concept SDK, but has been quieter about IFTTT.com integration. Still, they've been very open and cooperative with the developer community forming around them.

Pebble has, however, announced support for Runkeeper.com is coming soon. I don't personally like Runkeeper as much as others do and use Fitbit and loseit instead, but support for external applications is a huge beginning.

Other future developments may take advantage of the accelerometer and compass. Runkeeper integration probably takes advantage of the accelerometer. I can't wait to see what someone does with the compass.


Wrap Up



A question you should ask yourself when determining whether or not you need a smart watch is, what do you want to use it for?

So far, I've found that I want a watch that is:
* Easy to read
* Easy to navigate
* Shows messages quickly from the phone to the watch
* Long battery life.

Those are the absolute requirements. The music player is desirable, but it has to be easy to operate, with obvious transport controls.

Pebble Transport


Other watches add things like browsing the calendar, weather forecast, stocks, or phone battery status - but the above list are the essentials that have to be right.

Pebble ticks every box.

That isn't to say that there's no room for improvement.

One problem I've had when testing Pebble is the intermittent failure of iOS notifications. This can happen when the Bluetooth connection is broken, forcing you to toggle certain notification settings on your iOS device. The Pebble team is hard at work with new firmware updates, however, and has recently dealt with a number of minor issues with the latest release.

Pebble Watchfaces


The main launcher menu was also simplified in v1.9. Pebble says, "We've also made a lot of changes under the hood on the text rendering engine, making it easier and faster for developers to display text on Pebble."

Bottom Line



At $150, Pebble is one of the most affordable smart watches available, and you can't go wrong with it. Even so, when you're laying out $150 for a wrist watch, a good question to ask is, "How is product support?" I'm pleased to say that @getpebble on Twitter and email support via the support button in the Pebble iOS app were both responsive to requests for help. Kudos to their social media team who responded in minutes on a Saturday evening.

Pebble


All told, Pebble is absolutely worth the price of admission.

Score: 4.5 out of 5



ratings_hl_45.png

Pros
  • Good user interface
  • Good screen legibility
  • Ability to change bands/straps

Cons
  • Lack of availability
  • No out-of-the-box support for IFTTT and other external apps

Disclosure: the writer of this piece is a backer of the Kickstarter project.
post #2 of 63
My personal prediction: It won't win a lot of design awards.
post #3 of 63
Back to the nineties: way too big (I would like to see it on a womans wrist), way too ugly.
post #4 of 63
Victor Marks? Another of DED's many aliases I guess.

It's a cool device, and doubly so that they came from a Kickstarter, kudos. But they are still the walking dead, in the sense that once the iWatch comes out, they won't last long.
post #5 of 63
I really don't understand the fascination with this product. It's ugly and I don't find great utility in having a secondary device to tell me what's already accessible on the smartphone in my pocket.
post #6 of 63
Quote:
Even so, when you're laying out $150 for a wrist watch, a good question to ask is, "How is product support?"

 

My watch has never needed support. We are transferring the worst features of the computer industry to consumer products.

Philip Machanick creator of Opinionations and Green Grahamstown
Department of Computer Science, Rhodes University, South Africa

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Philip Machanick creator of Opinionations and Green Grahamstown
Department of Computer Science, Rhodes University, South Africa

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post #7 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by freediverx View Post

I really don't understand the fascination with this product. It's ugly and I don't find great utility in having a secondary device to tell me what's already accessible on the smartphone in my pocket.

It's quicker to look at the back of your hand than pull something out of your pocket. I predict these watches will start as accessory devices to your smartphone, and over time more and more functionality will migrate from the smartphone to the watch, eventually the watch will kill the smartphone.

 

The smartphone killed the watch in the 2000s and the watch will kill the smartphone in the 2010s.

post #8 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by freediverx View Post

I really don't understand the fascination with this product. It's ugly and I don't find great utility in having a secondary device to tell me what's already accessible on the smartphone in my pocket.


it makes sense for the people who have phones that are too big to fit in a pocket. they won't have to dig through their bag to find their galaxy note whenever they get a text.

the rest of us will just pull the phone out of our pocket like we always do when we want to know what time it is.

post #9 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii View Post

It's quicker to look at the back of your hand than pull something out of your pocket. I predict these watches will start as accessory devices to your smartphone, and over time more and more functionality will migrate from the smartphone to the watch, eventually the watch will kill the smartphone.

 

The smartphone killed the watch in the 2000s and the watch will kill the smartphone in the 2010s.


i've never been in a situation where i desperately needed to know the time in 1 second rather than 3. i've never been a watch guy though. this product obviously isn't for me.

post #10 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by OllieWallieWhiskers View Post


i've never been in a situation where i desperately needed to know the time in 1 second rather than 3. i've never been a watch guy though. this product obviously isn't for me.

It's not for me either, but I do believe the smartphone will eventually change in to something wearable, and I'll have no choice.

post #11 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by freediverx View Post

I really don't understand the fascination with this product. It's ugly and I don't find great utility in having a secondary device to tell me what's already accessible on the smartphone in my pocket.

 

If I get a text or call, I don't have to pull my phone out of my pocket to see who it is. If the brief glance at my watch reveals that it's important enough to stop or modify what I'm doing, e.g. running, driving or in a meeting, then I can pull my phone out.

Yes, this is convenience, not necessity, and $150 is a bit much, but if it proves popular, the price will come down.
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post #12 of 63

loads of people in the comments on their kickstarter page are hating on it. I'm not convinced at all and it looks like ass.

post #13 of 63

I have had the watch for about 2 weeks now and love it.  In the office I have my iphone silent now all the time, the vibration is very good, much better than the one on the Citizen watch I also have.  Being able to read texts and take or leave calls based on caller ID is also great.  Its very light, you barely know your wearing it.  Love the display even with my old eyes

post #14 of 63

It's a good proof of concept and seems to have achieved what it set out to do, and is probably the best of it's type on the market today.  I'm a proud funder, and look forward to receiving mine.

 

It is somewhat limited though, and there's clearly lots of room for improvement in both concept and execution.  If there's an iWatch in the making then there's a lot of  ceiling room for Apple to blow away the competition.

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post #15 of 63
hmmm kind of, nostalgic.

Again, news about a non-Apple product.
post #16 of 63

New SW Update this morning, new face selector and few new faces.  Love it here's the new face I selected

post #17 of 63
1) I completely disagree with the score. The price isn't even a con, but he states at the end "Pebble is worth the price of admission."

2) For a proof of concept I like it but nothing about Pebble entices me to want to wear a watch. I'm not even concerned about the price (which seems high for the "look" of quality) but of the functionality I think it offers. What I really want is something that talks with my iPhone better, and that means APIs which means Apple being directly involved.

3) This is one area I think a wireless charging dock might work. Make the back of the device conduct when in the present of the dock. Have that dock be part of the watch as a nice stand to place it. Since we're only talking about a very small battery it's possible it could fully charge in the timeframe it takes one to shower and shave.

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #18 of 63
The backlight looks so much brighter here than on my watch...?
post #19 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigmike View Post

hmmm kind of, nostalgic.

Again, news about a non-Apple product.

I think it's worse to comment that an article isn't about Apple when the title of the article is clearly not about Apple.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mudman2 View Post

New SW Update this morning, new face selector and few new faces.  Love it here's the new face I selected


I like that more than the others. It has an old school appeal.

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #20 of 63
Why do people waste time typing out what they hate about it and why it isn't for them? Who cares? Plenty of people like it and a product doesn't have to be for everyone.
post #21 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by allenbf View Post

Why do people waste time typing out what they hate about it and why it isn't for them? Who cares? Plenty of people like it and a product doesn't have to be for everyone.

So people should only post if they have accolades and shouldn' say anything if they see device, tech or marketing flaws with a product or concept? Seriously?! And why should my issues with the limitations with the product take away from your enjoyment? If it fits your specific needs then nothing I've said should affect you.

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #22 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by OllieWallieWhiskers View Post


it makes sense for the people who have phones that are too big to fit in a pocket. they won't have to dig through their bag to find their galaxy note whenever they get a text.
the rest of us will just pull the phone out of our pocket like we always do when we want to know what time it is.

Not necessarily.

If you're in a business meeting, it's considered rude to pull out your smartphone, but considerably less rude to look at a watch.

There are a lot of scenarios where this might make sense. This isn't a bad first step, but it has a long way to go before it's really ready for prime time.
"I'm way over my head when it comes to technical issues like this"
Gatorguy 5/31/13
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post #23 of 63
Seems like a niche product to me thus difficult to believe Apple is close to releasing such a product.
post #24 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

1) I completely disagree with the score. The price isn't even a con, but he states at the end "Pebble is worth the price of admission.".

Agreed. $150 to make your $700 smartphone (or tablet) more functional isn't out of line.
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

2) For a proof of concept I like it but nothing about Pebble entices me to want to wear a watch. I'm not even concerned about the price (which seems high for the "look" of quality) but of the functionality I think it offers. What I really want is something that talks with my iPhone better, and that means APIs which means Apple being directly involved..

I don't have any inside information and have no idea whether Apple is working on it, nor do I believe ANY of the rumors floating around. However, if Apple DID release a product like this, I think it could be significantly better and well worth the money.
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

3) This is one area I think a wireless charging dock might work. Make the back of the device conduct when in the present of the dock. Have that dock be part of the watch as a nice stand to place it. Since we're only talking about a very small battery it's possible it could fully charge in the timeframe it takes one to shower and shave.

I don't want to see wireless charging EVER catch on - even for small devices. It's a waste of energy and doesn't really make things any faster. You can accomplish the same 'quick connect' feature with the magnetic cable they're using, but without wasting energy.
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post #25 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by BeowulfSchmidt View Post

If I get a text or call, I don't have to pull my phone out of my pocket to see who it is. If the brief glance at my watch reveals that it's important enough to stop or modify what I'm doing, e.g. running, driving or in a meeting, then I can pull my phone out.

Yes good luck scrolling through text messages on your watch-sized screen while driving. Similar deal with running. Also means you would have your smartphone with you while running. If you are constantly glancing at your watch in a meeting then might as well have your phone out and glance at that. Same difference. Or do you think it would be years before anyone caught on that you have text messages on your smart watch?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


If you're in a business meeting, it's considered rude to pull out your smartphone, but considerably less rude to look at a watch.

Yeah until these things come out. The rude thing is not paying attention in the meeting.
post #26 of 63

Id love having a watch that gave me notifications, even better, be able to talk to siri, send texts or check stuff. 

this is just the beginning. 

post #27 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by trip1ex View Post

Yes good luck scrolling through text messages on your watch-sized screen while driving. Similar deal with running. Also means you would have your smartphone with you while running. If you are constantly glancing at your watch in a meeting then might as well have your phone out and glance at that. Same difference. Or do you think it would be years before anyone caught on that you have text messages on your smart watch?

Where did he state scrolling through a text message? If you can glance at a name in milliseconds, if you need to stop jogging to read the full message because it's someone you were waiting for or if you're driving you need to tell your hands-free system to call back the person that just texted you, that's what you do. I don't see how it can all be negatives with no pros.

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #28 of 63
You guys couldn't have taken off the plastic film covering the screen before you took pictures?
I have one and so far I find it very buggy but the potential to be great.

It is waterproof so I use it to change songs when I am in the shower.

It has a vibration motor and it has alerted me to calls I did not feel vibrating in my pocket.

Because I am in business, I keep my phone on mute and in my pocket during meetings. I can decline calls with a quick glance down to see who it was or read a text message without being rude and taking my phone out of my pocket. I flag messages from the CEO as VIP and have those emails pushed to the screen as well. Again, I can read it without taking out my phone (which BTW is always passcode locked and requires me to unlock it to read those emails).

Also, it's a watch :-) You would not believe the subtle indicator that glancing at your watch in a meeting sends to people as a non-verbal way of saying. "get to the point".

Anyway, I dig it, but I imagine alerts will be buggy until Apple decides to release their watch. Then it will get cleaned up :-)
post #29 of 63

I own a Pebble smartwatch and a Galaxy Note II smartphone.  The reason I bought the Pebble, as stated by others, is to avoid pulling the "large phone/small tablet" from my pocket when a text, calendar reminder, or email arrives.  The Pebble notifies me of these things.  And when a call comes in, pressing a button on the Pebble sends the caller to voice mail if I don't want to talk.  Also, since the Pebble vibrates on these actions, I can turn off all phone sounds and vibration.  No one notices the Pebble's vibration but me.  So, instead of BEING a smartphone on my wrist, Pebble COMPLEMENTS the smartphone in my pocket.  This is why I believe Pebble will succeed.  

post #30 of 63

The tech media is running out of things to hype.  If you are in the business of generating noise, you have to regularly chew on something new and spit out or you will be out of a job, if even what you are hyping is really not that important.

 

A watch that requires regular recharging is an immediate fail.  Even if it runs for a few days.  

 

The people who will wear a watch like this are the ones who still walk around with a bluetooth earpiece on all the time, even when they are not on the phone.  

 

Photo

post #31 of 63

I thought smart watches were useless, but they might have some merit after all. And if the Pebble is looking good so far, then imagine what Apple could do if they decided to make an iWatch that had complete, native integration with your iPhone.

post #32 of 63
Wow, I wasn't expecting it to be so ugly. It looks handmade.
post #33 of 63
I wear a watch.
People with smartphones are asking me what time it is all the time.
Kinda tells you something, eh?
post #34 of 63
I received my black pebble watch about a month ago and I'm really enjoying it. When I originally supported it on Kickstarter I wasn't sure if it would be useful or not, but I thought it would be a fun project to follow and support regardless.

Design: The jet black color looks sharp, and the matte black strap is a good fit. While the size may be a bit large for some, I find that it's not awkward to wear and it looks very nice. I've received quite a few compliments on the watch, all from people who were unfamiliar with what the watch does. I wear it with anything from suits to tshirts and jeans.

Useability: First and foremost, I use the pebble as a watch. The text display is very readable and looks cool. I'd probably consider adding this watch to my rotation even without the bluetooth connectivity. I pair the watch with my iPhone 5, and have it set to display text, phone, and email notifications. I had no idea how useful this watch would be. It's convenient for glancing at texts when in meetings, driving, or walking through the cold with my phone in my pocket. It's also great when my phone is charging in the kitchen, and I'm able to see a text from the couch in the living room.

Overall: I love my watch and my more expenses watches haven't seen the light of day for about a month.
post #35 of 63
Unless you suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or are waiting for a helicopter evacuation there is simply no need to constantly be consulting your "watch". Seriously, think how many times you check your e-mail every day, already. What would be served by tripling that frequency, other than to make people think you've developed a wrist tic. This motion will also be interpreted as checking the time, implying to other people that you can't wait to get out of the room.
post #36 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by wildcatherder View Post

Unless you suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or are waiting for a helicopter evacuation there is simply no need to constantly be consulting your "watch". Seriously, think how many times you check your e-mail every day, already. What would be served by tripling that frequency, other than to make people think you've developed a wrist tic. This motion will also be interpreted as checking the time, implying to other people that you can't wait to get out of the room.


It doesn't require compulsive checking, rather it provides convenience when you do want to check.  I find that the watch makes me less dependent on my phone, and texts/emails are less disruptive to my day.  A quick glance at my watch when I get a text message is more convenient and less disruptive to me than pulling my phone out of my pocket. 

post #37 of 63

It is worth pointing out the photos are of a watch with a (homemade?) screen protector on it. That does make it look a bit more "handmade" but mine is shiny, black, and looks very polished. I wouldn't mind it being a little thinner and the charge docking area to be less obvious. 

 

I own one. (Would never own a bluetooth earpiece, by the way, msimpson!) 

 

Still some bugginess with notifications being sent consistently, but overall I really like it, and I have gotten a lot of complements on it. My biggest frustration with a bug with it being seen by my phone as a bluetooth audio source so I had issues with text-to-speech and Siri, but that was fixed yesterday. 

 

I will be watching (no pun intended) Apple's "iWatch" if/when it ever happens with great interest, but in the meantime this does provide a great deal of convenience and the apparently robust developer community will have great apps for it in the months to come. There is a great deal of the watch that is still not accessible with the software but has hardware in place (accelerometer, pedometer, BT 4.0, linking to phone GPS & data for weather, news feeds, etc.)  

 

The haters are gonna hate... Someone who doesn't wear or want a watch isn't going to find something compelling to put on their wrist but for those who wear one it is a strong entry that will only get better in the months ahead.   

post #38 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rabbit_Coach View Post

My personal prediction: It won't win a lot of design awards.


Doesn't even have a color display.   This looks like 80's technology, nothing more.

post #39 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by trip1ex View Post

Yeah until these things come out. The rude thing is not paying attention in the meeting.

Hah- that's true.  Everyone will know while you're looking at your iWatch or whatever it's called that you're just checking a message.  Once (if) it goes mainstream, you won't be able to "hide" it.

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post #40 of 63
I hope the Apple iWatch is a product intended to throw the competition off the trail. Whatever the next big shift is in the technology market, I sincerely hope it's not a glorified calculator watch. Here's to hoping Apple's new TV set brings something far more interesting to the party.
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