Do you remember when science fiction was usually about things that wouldn’t happen in our lifetime? I certainly do. As a child of the 60′s (although not really noticing anything around me until the early 70′s), my earliest impressions of science fiction were delivered via Star Trek, with communicators and automatic doors that made a whoosh sound.
Whilst Captain Kirk used his handheld communicator to speak to his crew in the Bridge back on board the USS Enterprise, Mr Spock would look at his scanner as he waved it around in front of him. Today we have smartphones that effectively do both but back then, mobile phones hadn’t been invented and one would have needed a couple of large lorries and a generator in order to achieve a tenth of what Spock’s handheld scanner could do.
Kirk could instruct his landing crew to “set phasers to stun” back in the 70′s, today we have lasers that can shoot down missiles and cut through steel over a mile away. Ok, so they aren’t hand portable yet, but one could easily argue that tasers are pretty close to phasers – certainly if one was on the receiving end of one.
The other sci-fi invention that all young boys wanted back in the day was a Dick Tracy watch. The idea that you could communicate via your time-piece was the holy grail for boys last century. In reality, we have been able to do so for quite a while. Take a look on ebay and there are loads of chinese watch phones from as little as £30 – with cameras, touch screens, bluetooth etc. But none of them have taken my fancy. Perhaps this is because I don’t actually want to have to hold my wrist up to my mouth and ear to have a conversation. I don’t want to wear a bluetooth headset. But I do want a smartwatch.
So I am interested to see what the Pebble team have to say today at the Consumer Electronics Show as their customers/investors are very keen to get their hands on their Pebbles. In case you haven’t seen Pebble before, it is the most successful Kickstarter project ever. Launched via the crowd funding site with an initial target of raising US$100,000 in order to help the team develop and start up the manufacturing of their e-paper watch, they actually raised US$10million from people keen to invest in their business and to get their hands on the devices.
Pebble is a very clever little watch. It uses the new low power bluetooth to link to your smartphone (Android or iPhone so far) and then the world it seems is your oyster. The basics are all there: the watch vibrates when you get a call and displays the name of the person calling on its screen; it displays sms messages and emails on your wrist; it shows you your reminders; it has four buttons so you can divert calls to voicemail; snooze a reminder etc; it even shows you the time.
But where the really clever thing about Pebble lies is in its ability to work with apps on your phone. For example, golfers can already download an app to your iphone that uses gps etc to show you the distance to the pin whilst playing a round of golf. That in itself is pretty clever. But how about you simply look at your watch for that information? Similarly, if you use Siri to remind you to stop off and buy some milk when you drive past the Tesco Local, how much nicer that the reminder just pops up, as if by magic, on your watch screen. They have agreed “if this then that” integration too – ifttt is a very clever web service (that I will blog about separately soon) that simply allows users to set up a simple trigger formula. You just tell it that if a certain thing happens, then it should do something else. For example, you can use it to send a message to your pebble when a weather website sends out a snow alert, so that you know when to head to your chalet. And, of course, Pebble can control your Itunes music library.
Pebble had hoped to launch last year and some of the kickstarted investors have grumbled a little about the delays, but seasoned new product investors know that delays happen – and usually the marketing team aren’t allowed to tell people about the new product until everything is sorted.
I didn’t get in to the kickstarter options for Pebble. But I have pre-ordered one. At US$150 it gives me more than Dick Tracy had – and I can tell the time on it. In the meantime, I wonder if all the time and money spent by automatic door companies on ensuring that their products are silent has been a big waste. Wouldn’t we all prefer doors to whoosh?