The Pebble smartwatch is one of my personal favourite platforms to play around with as a developer. Developing for a small smartwatch with limited colours and CPU is a whole new ballgame compared to developing for other platforms like smartphones and the web! The Pebble Time has a certain retro vibe to it that makes it a lot of fun to develop for. Thomas Sarlandie from Pebble is one of its very eager and passionate Developer Evangelists. He’s got plenty of knowledge on the Pebble ecosystem and all of their recent developments and is also a really lovely guy! I asked him a few questions on developing for the Pebble Time.

The Pebble Time is out and available! How has the developer reaction been to the new APIs and possibilities?

Pebble Time

Pebble Time

I have heard from many developers that the addition of colors added a “3rd dimension to apps”. Many of them have had a lot of fun re-exploring their apps and ended up significantly re-designing them. This also had a huge impact on watchfaces and we have seen tons of new ones that would never have been possible on the original Pebble.

Timeline is the other area were we have seen strong interest from developers. With the timeline, a developer can push information to users and this is a great way to keep them coming back. Some apps (like the game Strike Force) used it in a very original way to create a sense of competition and create strong engagement. Some other apps, like the Travel app, are bringing tremendous value to the user with pins that update in real time with plane and transport information.

What are the most exciting new features and possibilities of the Pebble Time that developers might be keen to work with?

Colors and timeline are the most visible at the moment but there is a lot more to come. The smartstrap API has got quite a lot of interest online and it’s not even available. It will be public when this interview is published and I am extremely excited to see what people build with it.

Another highly requested feature is the use of the microphone in apps and that is also coming very soon!

What is your favourite use of the Pebble Time’s new features that you’ve seen so far?

I have listed a few cool new apps above. If I had to choose a very personal favorite it would be the TideLine app which gives me the tides for my favorite sailing spot. I use it every weekend because tides are the kind of thing you have to look at three times before you remember them; it’s super convenient to have them accessible directly in my timeline, just a few clicks away.

One of the things I’ve found really valuable from other entrants like Google and Apple entering into this space is that there’s more discussion on smartwatch app design and usability. From this UX perspective, do you have any tips for smartwatch app developers? What are some key things the Pebble team have learnt that might be applicable to others?

There is so much to say about usability of smartwatch apps. My first advice is to really focus on the core feature of your application. Keep it very simple and do it well. User education is a huge problem because no-one expects a learning phase for a watchapp. We recommend using our standard UI components and patterns to offer an experience that is consistent with the system and other apps. For more information about this, take a look at our design guides on the website.

What are the three most important things a developer should know before starting Pebble app development?

  1. Getting started is super easy with cloudpebble.net You can create a project and run it on your watch in less than a minute. There is nothing to install on your computer, the complete development environment runs in your browser – And yes, you can also download the SDK and work locally if that is what you prefer.
  2. You do not need to own a Pebble Watch to get started – There is a Pebble emulator available in CloudPebble and in the SDK that you download and install on your computer.
  3. There are tons of resources to help you – The developer website has all our documentation and examples; StackOverflow has a lot of Pebble answers and GitHub has tons of projects to get inspiration from. But in my opinion the most important asset is our awesome developer community who can be found on StackOverflow, on our forums and now on a Slack channel.

Any tips on limitations of the Pebble watch hardware? Or ways to avoid common pitfalls?

Memory is limited on an embedded device like Pebble. Don’t try to load images or large JSON files directly from the Internet. Instead do some pre-processing in the cloud or on the phone, that will help a lot!

On the other hand, Pebble’s CPU is very capable – it can probably do much more than you think! Don’t be afraid to challenge it.

Any hints about the future of Pebble app development for developers?

I have already hinted at Smartstraps and the Voice API. We have more components coming up to make UX development easier and we are always listening to the community. Join us on Slack and tell us what you would like the future of Pebble app development to be!

A big thank you to Thomas for taking the time to answer some of my questions! You can find Thomas on Twitter at @sarfata or on the Pebble Slack channel. All things Pebble can be found over at http://getpebble.com!

 

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