Chris Velazco wrote a great TechCrunch piece on wrist-based wearable tech and where it is right now; I recommend you go read it. Then come right back.
We're in the walking fish stage of wearable computers
The landscape he describes reminds me of the early home PC market, awash with weirdo designs that flopped (remember when Atari made computers?) and stalwart manufacturers sometimes introduced sideshow products (the IBM PC Jr, which was admittedly pretty cool). Except we've had wearables for a while -- Casio calculator watches, Palm OS and the Seiko UC-2000 plus a variety of headgear and other oddball input/output devices.
What we're seeing now is the supply chain catching up to the vision of wearable computing. We're finally getting to the good part. Fitbit (my One is pictured above, cheekily attached to my Pebble) is one of those good parts. Nike's Fuel products are definitely a bright spot of hardware and software, even beyond "wearables." But Pebble intrigues me more, as I feel it is the future of wearable computing for a while. Watches, in particular, are a product we know, one that feels familiar. Watches make a lot of sense as another screen for even the most die-hard smartphone aficionado. And no, I'm not talking about doing everything from your wrist -- because that's ridiculous.
In light of the primitive nature of the market, I've been trying a Pebble for a few weeks. I must say that if you have a friend or family member on your gift-giving list who is "into" gadgets, it's a really cool watch. You can shower with the Pebble on your wrist and never miss a message (well, until for reasons unknown the watch-to-phone link is severed, but reliability is a moving target). There are dozens of watch faces to download using apps like this. Plus, there are a handful of fun apps like an old Game and Watch style game or two.
Pebble is not perfect, as crashes and oddities persist, but in the short time I've had mine it has gotten more stable. A caveat for iOS users is that due to differences between the way iOS and Android provide security around messaging and other functions, some Pebble-connected iOS apps are more limited than the equivalent Android apps -- but I love the Pebble so far.
Much has been written about the hardware, so let me just add that while the connection to your iPhone can be finicky at times (and that's a bummer when you come to rely on playing music to find your iPhone!), it's still reliable more often than not. I don't fault the Bluetooth on Pebble.
The watch itself won't stand up to heavy shocks, but it is perfectly OK in the shower. The exposed metal contacts stick to the included USB charger by way of a magnet. My only complaint is a lack of information while charging.
But isn't this completely unnecessary?
Watches connected to your smartphone sound ridiculous until you're carrying something to your house and get a message about when company will arrive. This happened to me and all I had to do was glance at my wrist. The Future! With push notifications you can customize what you get sent to your wrist, too. I found the ability to start and stop music on my iPhone handy when I lost the darn thing one night -- in my house. Oh, and you can decline calls even when iOS doesn't provide the option on the phone's screen.
I found dozens of everyday scenarios for the Pebble that warrant me wearing a watch after about 4 years of not wearing watches. No, a smartwatch isn't necessary for life. But it sure is nice. In light of "Apple picking" stories it might also save you some heartache.
But yes, it is for early adopters
I can't stress two things enough here: One, that Pebble is really cool and has a ton of potential. Two, that Pebble isn't living up to its potential yet. A lot of stuff has a beta feel. The store is woefully small, and watch faces are often a bit silly. There's a clunky app (for now) that allows me to see calendar events, and promises more -- but none of the features work. And calendar is spelled wrong. For more on how wonky it can get (but still work enough), be sure to read this tag-team review of the Pebble at TechCrunch.
While I do suggest getting Pebble for the gadget geek on your list, please keep in mind we're in the early days of these devices. I think the Pebble will some day be seen as the Apple II of the wearable shift in personal computing for the masses. After all, aren't wearables the most personal of mobile computers? I can't wait to see the Pebble line advance, and the company grow along with the industry. It also keeps me dreaming of a watch designed by Apple.