My Pebble Smart Watch experience

My Pebble

I heard about the Pebble Smart Watch Kickstarter project on one of the podcasts I listen to (I think it was Tech News Today) not long after the project launched in April 2012. Being a geek and also normally wearing a watch (which today sometimes seems rare, since most people use modern day pocket watches - AKA mobile phones - to tell time) I decided to support the project on April 19th 2012, at which time the project was already on its way to make Kickstarter records. I chose the "One Jet Black Pebble watch" reward.

The Kickstarter experience

This was my first Kickstarter backing, so I didn't know exactly what to expect. I have read stories about projects being severely delayed or not delivering the promised rewards. And in some cases this has resulted in lawsuits against the people who created those projects.

It seems to be a common misconception that Kickstarter is an online store. Kickstarter has even recently changed their guidelines to try to make it even clearer that it's a funding site and not an online store. As the Pebble project got delayed (caused by the big success resulting in the demand for a lot more units needed), I have seen a lot of comments on the project page mentioning that it should be possible to cancel an "order" as you can in an ordinary online store if the store is unable to deliver the product in time.

Personally I consider supporting a Kickstarter project as an investment. And as in all investments there is the risk of losing the investment, or that the project does not exactly follow the schedule laid out in the project description. But it is important to make sure that the investors are well informed during the process.

For the Pebble project I generally have felt well informed. But I would have liked a little more (and clearer) information when it became clear that the projected delivery date (September 2012) would not hold. The Kickstarter updates have contained information on the delay, but it would have been nice if a revised schedule had been released.

Delivery

On March 7, 2013, I received the long waited message from Pebble that my Pebble had shipped. And less than a week later the package arrived in Denmark. I received a message from the Danish postal service telling me that I needed to pay VAT on the watch before I could get my hands on my new toy. And I also had to pay a fee to the postal service for calculating the VAT - $24 in VAT, $29 in fee. I did expect both of these, since the Pebble team had stated that they would use the Singapore postal service to ship the device to Europe, but I would have liked to avoid the fee to the Danish postal service. I think a fee of $29, for doing a simple multiplication of two numbers (shipment value * VAT rate), is a little steep.

Perhaps Pebble could have shipped all the shipments for the EU from within the EU (not Germany - because then no-one would have received their watches). Or they could have used a shipping provider that could handle VAT payment from the sending end. Both of these approaches would of course require that the VAT was charged to each final recipient, but I would expect that there are shipping providers that have the expertise in that. But perhaps the issue with finding a shipping provider that would accept shipments of devices with built-in batteries would make this difficult. On the Pebble Support Center pages it is mentioned that using other shipping providers than the postal service, often will be more expensive than the postal service, but I have received shipments with UPS from the US to Denmark, where the VAT was charged by the sender, for a shipping cost less than $15. Of course this is from a sender that sends a lot of shipments, but with the number of Pebble watches needed to be shipped perhaps Pebble could have negotiated a good deal with a company like UPS.

First impression

Setting up the Pebble was very easy including the installation of the first firmware upgrade. And it was also easy to find and install additional watch faces. And I also got the notifications to work - including the mail notifications from my iPhone. But every time the Bluetooth connection is broken the mail notifications need to be set up again - more about that below.

The design of the watch looks a little plasticky, and does feel a little bulky if your wrist is of a smaller size. The screen is quite easy to read also in sunlight, although I sometimes have problems reading the screen when wearing sunglasses, but I think it's caused by a polarization issue between the sunglasses and the display. I generally don't like rubber bands on watches, so I have replaced the default band with a NATO strap. Changing the band is very easy and the watch fits standard 22mm watch bands. In the beginning the battery life was not great but after a firmware update, I would now say that the battery life is quite good.

In everyday use I only use 2 different watch faces - Big Time (because of the big digits), and Simplicity (because it also shows the date). I also have some other watch faces installed, but those are only used when demonstrating the watch to friends and family - when they discover that it's not just a normal digital watch I'm wearing, they become very interested in seeing what it can do. And the possibility to control the podcasts playing on my iPhone is very handy during my daily commute.

Outstanding issues

I don't use the Pebble exclusively, but in periods it has been my primary watch. And when using it as my everyday watch I have come over some issues. But when trying to find out if there is a solution or workaround for these issues it has been difficult to find information. The challenge is that there are several places where you need to look to be sure that you have gotten all the information. There are the Kickstarter updates (and the comments to these), there is the Pebble Support Center, there is the forum and there is even information on Reddit. It would be nice if there was one place where you could see a list of known issues and the status of these issues. An article on the Pebble Support Center would be the most logical place for this.

One of the issues that I have is the iOS Mail Notification issue. In earlier versions of the help article on setting up notifications on iOS it was mentioned that you needed to simply turn the notifications for each mail account off and on again to get it to work. But the current article simply states that Pebble is working on mail notifications for future release (while the original work-around is still working). As long as you make sure that the Bluetooth connection between the Pebble and your iPhone is not broken, everything is fine. But as soon as the connection is broken, you need to set up the notifications again. I often leave my phone at the desk at work, and just going to pick up something to drink is far enough for the connection to break. In the latest Kickstarter update (#42) it is stated that the next version of the iOS app will solve this problem, but only for IMAP and Gmail. And this makes me believe that perhaps the Pebble app will be connecting directly to the mail servers. But what about Exchange mail accounts? I also get my corporate mails on my iPhone. And if the Pebble app is communicating directly with the mail server, the notifications on the Pebble and on the iOS device would not necessarily be in sync. But we will see when the iOS app gets updated. I may update this blog post when that happens.

Another minor issue is the missing ability to rearrange the watch faces using the iOS app. Although you in the iOS app get the impression that you can re-order the faces, this has no effect on the actual watch. I read a comment somewhere that this would be solved in a future release of the iOS app. But why create the iOS app so it gives the impression that you can rearrange the watch faces? And this "feature" has been in the iOS app since the beginning.

It would also be nice if it was possible to get an estimate of how much power was left in the battery. Only when the battery is close to empty does the battery indicator show up. It doesn't need to be the battery indicator showing the status, since it may be too small to be able to show different levels. But perhaps a battery level menu under settings could show the current state of the battery.

Going forward

Pebble has recently begun selling the Pebble watch in Best Buy in the US, and black Pebbles have also been sent to pre-order customers, even if not all Kickstarter backers have received their watches (non-black Pebbles). That could have been handled better. I can understand how some backers can get the impression that Pebble is thinking more on making money, than making sure that the people that made the success possible get their watches.

I will continue to use my Pebble. Not exclusively, since I also like to wear some of my analog watches. And I have not been scared off from smart watches or Kickstarter, because I have also backed the AGENT Smart Watch on Kickstarter. I will most likely also write a blog-post about that when the watch arrives (hopefully sometime in the beginning of 2014).

Update: Pebble iOS App 1.2.x

On August 1st, 2013, version 1.2 of the Pebble App for iOS was released. This version solves the mail notification problem for GMail and IMAP mail services. It does this by accessing the mail-servers directly. This means that mail notifications are no longer dependent on the notifications from iOS. As I suspected this means that the mail notifications on the Pebble and on the iPhone are no longer in sync, so when you feel the phone vibrate and expect to see a notifications on the Pebble nothing shows up. And sometimes you receive a notification on the Pebble before the mail has arrived on the iPhone. But at least you won't have to do the "Finger Dance", to get mail notifications to work.

But the new mail notification feature does not work for Exchange mail boxes. Before the 1.2 update, you would also receive mail notifications for Exchange mail boxes on the Pebble (after performing the "Finger Dance"). This is no longer possible, but I hope that Pebble will implement support for Exchange in a future version of the Pebble iOS App, since I receive more mails on my work Exchange account than I do on my private accounts.

On August 23rd, 2013, version 1.2.1 of the Pebble iOS App was released. This update should "push" the mail notifications to the Pebble as then mails "come in". It not entirely clear what this means. Perhaps the Pebble iOS App is using the IMAP Notify feature to get a notification from the mail server as new mails arrive. Sometimes it feels like the mails arrives faster on the Pebble, but other times it feels like the Pebble iOS App misses the new mails altogether.

I would say that version 1.2 and 1.2.1 of the Pebble iOS App is a step in the right direction, since the limitations in the native iOS notifications require workarounds. And if/when they get support for Exchange accounts and perhaps get the Push functionality to work a little better I will be pleased.

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Connecting to OpenVPN Access Server from OS X

July 27, 2013

I have recently bought a MacBook Air, even if I'm mostly a Windows guy. I needed a replacement for my old laptop, and with the 13" MacBook Air I now have a computer that is easy to bring with me, while still having good power. And as a geek I also like the challenge og getting to know a new OS. I will still be using Windows a lot, and I have also installed Windows in BootCamp on the new MacBook Air, and tried to get Parallels to work with my BootCamp partition - more on that in another blog entry.

Problem

OpenVPN

At home I'm running an OpenVPN Access Server on my Linux computer, so that I can access my home network when I'm on the road. And on my Windows laptop, the official OpenVPN Desktop Client for Windows has always worked without problems. On my new MacBook Air I installed the Tunnelblick client, since this is the client suggested by the OpenVPN website, and I had no problems importing the profile I was using on my Windows computers. And I could also connect to the home network, but I could not get access to the Internet when connected to the VPN. The VPN is configured to route all traffic through the VPN. I could ping all computers on the home network including the router, but traffic to the Internet stopped at the router.

I then began investigating on Google to see if others had had the same problems, without finding any hints on how to solve the problem. I also tried other OpenVPN clients for OS X, without any luck. I then wondered if I needed to create some static routes in the VPN configuration to get it to work on OS X, and started looking through the OpenVPN AS documentation to see how that should be done. And in the documentation I found the solution. I had been running my OpenVPN AS using OSI Layer 2 (ethernet bridging) topology, since that gave my laptop an ip-address on the home network when connected with VPN. But in the documentation (and on the Admin Interface for OpenVPN AS), it states that Layer 2 only works with Windows Clients. But since it's several years since I did the initial setup of the OpenVPN AS this was not something that sprung to mind when I tried getting the connection to work.

Solution

After switching to Layer 3 (routing/NAT), and downloading a new profile, I can now access the Internet when connected to the VPN, while still having access to the computers on the home network from from both Windows and OS X clients. I have not had to make any changes to the default settings on the OpenVPN AS (yet). I find it a little strange that I have not seen this information mentioned in connection with any of the OpenVPN clients available for OS X, since it must be a common trap.