Pebble is dead and hardware buttons are going with it

This week, word broke of the final, ultimate demise of the Pebble smartwatch, with current owner Fitbit announcing that it would be ending support for the scrappy crowdfunded smartwatches this coming June.

And while that moment will go down as the death of an era of Kickstarter successes and a dream of a true third-party smartwatch alternative to Apple and Google’s own smartwatch platforms, the end of the Pebble era will hold a different sort of significance to me: the death of hardware buttons.

Because unlike an Apple Watch or Android Wear device, Pebble watches worked completely with physical buttons. The whole point of a smartwatch was supposed to be that you can use it instead of having to take your phone out of your pocket, and no time was that more useful than when it’s cold or snowing outside and you just want to change the song that’s playing on your phone or read a text message. For years, even as I’ve stopped wearing my Apple Watch entirely, I still turned to my Pebble if I wanted a physical hardware control for my music, one that I could use while out on a run or a train without needing to look down at my watch. And while some of the hybrid smartwatches are picking up the tactile button slack, they lack the full smartwatch capabilities of the Pebble watches.

It’s a problem that predates the Pebble. Touchscreens have been bringing this issue to the forefront of my mind for years. When I upgraded from an iPod video to an iPod touch, I lost the ability to just plug in my headphones and skip between songs on my iPod while drifting off to sleep on planes. The aphorism “Easy enough to do with your eyes closed,” simply doesn’t apply to our technology anymore, because no matter how intuitive the operating system, the very nature of the hardware demands your full visual attention. It’s the same reason that touchscreen keyboards on tablets aren’t as useful as physical keyboards on our laptops and desktops — because we don’t need to look at the real, physical buttons to use them.

Now, are any of these major, life-altering problems that irrevocably effect the overall technology industry? Obviously not. The era of the touchscreen is likely here to stay; with the exception of holdouts like the BlackBerry KeyOne, a full-touch experience on a smartphone allows for far more functionality than what we lost in tactile responses.

But still, as the Pebble — and the last bastion of mobile hardware buttons — rides off into the sunset, I can’t help but wish that companies would put more thought into this side of the user experience. After all, it’s still winter in New York for another few weeks, and my fingers are getting cold.


How have you not noticed that you can control your iPod Touch/iPhone with the physical controls on your earbuds.

Have you tried to use the controls on wireless earbuds in gloves?

Buy silver threaded gloves. They don’t cost more than standard gloves anymore and run all electronics without issue.

They’re physical buttons, capacitive compatibility isn’t the issue, it just becomes imprecise in gloves to feel distinct clicks and it tends to become a dance of the remote doing stuff you didn’t want

Program one of your AirPods to skip to the next track. All it needs is two quick taps to do so.

Pretty simple on AirPods. Just gotta use a couple taps on one to pause or skip or trigger Siri.

I also loved the loooooonnnnnnnnggggggg battery life on the pebble. Why aren’t more people using that color e-ink screen?

searching for replacement since Fitbit get pebble .. no luck so far .. since now I limit my usage of Pebble basicaly to Time, alarm, notifications, quick replies, music control and sleep monitoring most smartwatches should do .. but e-ink readibility on sun, buttons control, battery life, shortcuts and general user experience is nowhere to find…. Garmin Fenix 3 was kind of good .. buttons, notiifications, music control, lots of sport and outdoor activities, good looking well build but it just doesn`t have that ease of use and I dont feeli like paying all the money for extra features I wont really use .. perhaps some other Garmin (forrunner) or another kickstarter product wil do ..

Somewhere, Will.I.Am is twiddling his thumbs and waiting for someone to make a call. He may be our only hope.

Crossing fingers… Still love my Pebble Time Steel…

I’m a believer that ultimately Pebble sunk because they went with the wrong display. The original was a success because there is room for a B&W but badass display. The new one on the Time series was just not a good display, the contrast was too low. However users wanted colors on displays so that compromise was made.

I feel that pebble sunk because they had no ecosystem to call their own. The watch was an excellent concept, but the underlying technology was primitive and waiting to be obsoleted by a better offering.

For example, I could view notifications but not respond to them. They were the blackberry of the smartwatch market. It was only a matter of time before they lost to the Apple Watch.

You know Pebble did have a great ecosystem: they had a thrieving community with thousands of devs and tens of thousands of apps before Apple Watch or Android Wear was even a thing! You could answer to notifications with emojis, canned messages and voice dictation (even thou Apple tried it’s best to hinder that feature). Did Pebble have a low-power low-performance CPU with only kbytes of RAM? Sure did, but it did what it was supposed to, and guess what, a 80MHz CPU runs longer on the same battery than a 1.2GHz multicore ARM one.

I’m confused, I respond to notification on my Pebble even today. That was what made voice dictation great. For example if I’m driving, it’s way better to put my wrist to my mouth to voice out a message than to do that with my phone or whatever.

Yes, it was only iOS users that were restricted from actionable notifications. Android users got full benefit of all the features.

The good news is that many of these uses will still remain for Android users even after Fitbit shuts down the Pebble infrastructure. Which is great, because I will keep my Pebble Time until it dies; there is just no true equivalent on the market right now.

Oh, and I like the color display. I agree with the OP, it’s the key to what makes the Pebble Time so cool IMO.

No, They asked themselves what people would want. A super bright display that will make the watch last 2-3 days, or a e-ink color display that will not be as bright but, will give 7+ days or battery life.

Getting a Nice OLED display would be nice but, it would of lost the great battery life and that is what most people were really interested in. And by the way, that no other big brand watch gets 7-10 days like the Pebble time did..

It’s been years and people still have this misconception: The screen is NOT e-ink, it’s a Sharp memory LCD that has lower power consumption, but it’s still not e-ink.

Calling it e-paper seemed deliberately misleading

And why would that be? Both "e-ink" and "e-paper" are arbitrary marketing terms applied to different screen types. And they essentially both convey the same thing – low resolution, low refresh, high battery life. There’s nothing misleading about it.

I believe the trademarked name e-ink came first and it was used to also describe a whole new technology. E-paper seems to be first used by Pebble to name a Seiko low-power LCD module they sourced. And, as has been observed often, people keep calling the Pebble display e-ink, whereas I’ve never heard anyone call a Kindle display e-paper.

So, maybe it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to confuse the two, but that certainly has happened. And really, for the purposes of marketing, so they aren’t violating someone else’s IP, that’s fine.

What, where have you been in the last 10 years? E Ink is a trademarked name and has also been used by various tech blogs and publications to describe a very specific type of screen technology.

Also remember mirasol displays? I’d still sort of want a smartwatch with that, given a week of battery life instead.

Why did nothing mass market end up using that?

^ THIS! I remember the sort of low-level hype that was building around Mirasol for a while, and then it just disappeared.

Maybe it turned out to be insufficient for high-end devices, but I can’t believe nobody found a use for Mirasol in simpler, cheaper devices like…oh, I don’t know…a smartwatch.

Apple even bought a research plant ahead of it before the Watch. Them going with an active OLED instead made sense, but I still don’t get why an ebook reader with full motion graphics with Mirasol didn’t happen.

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