When announcing its new Pebble Time product, the company mentioned that it would support «smart straps». What is this feature and how can it affect the watch market?
«Smart straps» are a kind of peripherals for smartwatches, expanding their hardware capabilities. For example, the strap may be equipped with a GPS sensor, a Wi-Fi receiver, an additional battery, or some other sensor. These straps connect to the magnetic charging port on the back of the Pebble Time, which is also used for data transfer.
The possibilities are limited only by the imagination of the developers and the inexorable technological reality. It’s still too early for concrete implementations — after all, the Pebble Time itself won’t be released until May — so smart bands now mostly exist in the form of bold ideas.
However, these ideas look very tempting even at this early stage. Let’s see what the developers offer us.
Pebble itself obviously takes the first place in the list — the company will definitely release some kind of smart accessories for its watches. According to the founder of the company, Eric Migikovsky, the company is fully supportive of the idea and is intensively working on several projects, but is not yet ready to publicly demonstrate them. Migikowski declined to reveal the details of the projects, but did make a few hints.
“Imagine a GPS sensor that lets you track your runs or rides without having to take your smartphone with you. Or a strap with a battery that extends the life of the watch from a week to a month. And, of course, developers can always release a strap with a special sensor for special cases, such as health problems.”
Migikowski didn’t expand on the idea of »health problems,» but the potential of medical sensors is easy to imagine. It is likely that we will see straps that measure the wearer’s heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, body temperature — almost everything that fitness trackers are already capable of measuring.
Over time, advances in technology will allow straps to perform more complex tests, such as measuring blood sugar levels. Theoretically, the straps will even be able to predict the state of health, ranging from banal fatigue during exercise, and up to a warning about a possible heart attack.
To help forward-thinking ideas turn into products, Pebble donated $1 million to a special fund in March from which crowdfunding projects of smart straps will be funded. In the first month of the foundation’s existence, only one project received funding — TimeDock, combined with a charging dock for Pebble Time. Strangely enough, since this project has nothing to do with smart straps, Eric Migikowski declined to comment on such a decision.
But even without funding, independent development is slowly moving forward. The Chinese company Seeed, the developer of the Xadow modular hardware platform, is working on an adapter that will allow you to connect platform modules to Pebble Time through the already mentioned data port. Xadow modules include pressure sensors, NFC chips, accelerometers, and a good dozen other sensors; such a variety of tools will surely allow developers to create interesting solutions.
San Francisco-based Spark engineers went one step further and created a working prototype of a «strap» that connects the Pebble Time to a cellular network. However, it is hardly correct to call it a prototype — according to company director Zack Supalla, the engineers made this «strap» for fun, as a quick hack to demonstrate the idea, and do not intend to turn it into a finished product.
Probably 95% of other smart strap projects are in a similar state. The Pebble forums are brimming with promising ideas and concepts, from game controllers to strap-integrated solar panels and kinetic-to-electrical energy converters that allow the watch to recharge on the go, like its mechanical ancestors. However, almost none of the dreamers has the necessary technical knowledge to translate the idea into hardware. Skeptical of such ideas and Eric Migikovski.
“Making a game controller for the watch would be cool. But energy converters are something from the category of flying to the moon. Hardly feasible right now.»
Migikowski knows what he’s talking about — the straps developed by Pebble itself are also far from being published. According to the head of the company, Pebble Time watches should enter the market in the next month, but the straps will be on sale in six months or a year. «Iron is hard!» Eric noted.
Summing up, one can only agree with the head of Pebble. The very idea of expanding the functionality of the watch with the help of additional space in the straps looks promising, but it is no coincidence that the projects of such straps that are closest to reality come down to banal batteries or sensors that are already built into the solutions of Pebble competitors. Technological limitations and banal laws of physics will, as usual, bring dreamers down to earth, and it is hardly worth waiting for any revolutions from this Pebble idea. [readandwrite]