1. Smart Watches

    Smart Watches

    The designers of the Pebble watch realized that a mobile phone is more useful if you don’t have to take it out of your pocket.

  2. Ultra-Efficient Solar Power

    Ultra-Efficient Solar Power

    Doubling the efficiency of solar devices would completely change the economics of renewable energy. Here is a design that just might make it possible.

  3. Memory Implants

    Memory Implants

    A maverick neuroscientist believes he has deciphered the code by which the brain forms long-term memories.

  4. Prenatal DNA Sequencing

    Prenatal DNA Sequencing

    Reading the DNA of fetuses is the next frontier of the genome revolution. Do you really want to know the genetic destiny of your unborn child?

  5. Deep Learning

    Deep Learning

    With massive amounts of computational power, machines can now recognize objects and translate speech in real time. Artificial intelligence is finally getting smart.

  6. Additive Manufacturing

    Additive Manufacturing

    GE, the world’s largest manufacturer, is on the verge of using 3-D printing to make jet parts.

  7. Big Data from Cheap Phones

    Big Data from Cheap Phones

    Collecting and analyzing information from simple cell phones can provide surprising insights into how people move about and behave—and even help us understand the spread of diseases.

  8. Temporary Social Media

    Temporary Social Media

    Messages that quickly self-destruct could enhance the privacy of online communication and make people feel freer to be spontaneous.

  9. Supergrids

    Supergrids

    A high-power circuit breaker could finally make DC power grids practical.

  10. Baxter: The Blue-Collar Robot

    Baxter: The Blue-Collar Robot

    Rethink Robotics’ new creation is easy to interact with, but the innovations behind the robot show just how hard it is to get along with people.

Smart Watches

The designers of the Pebble watch realized that a mobile phone is more useful if you don’t have to take it out of your pocket.

  • by John Pavlus
  • Eric Migicovsky didn’t really want a “wearable computer.” When he first conceived of what would become the Pebble smart watch five years ago, as an industrial-design student at Delft University of Technology in the Nether­lands, he just wanted a way to use his smartphone without crashing his bicycle. “I thought of creating a watch that could grab information from my phone,” the 26-year-old Canadian says. “I ended up building a prototype in my dorm room.”

    Now Migicovsky is shipping 85,000 Pebble watches to eager customers who don’t want to lug a glass slab out of their pocket just to check their e-mail or the weather forecast. Pebble uses Bluetooth to connect wirelessly to an iPhone or Android phone and displays notifications, messages, and other simple data of the user’s choosing on its small black-and-white LCD screen. In April 2012, using the online fund-raising platform Kickstarter, Migicovsky asked for $100,000 to help bring Pebble to market. Five weeks later, he had more than $10 million—making his the highest-grossing Kickstarter campaign yet. Suddenly smart watches are a real product category: Sony entered the market last year, Samsung is about to, and Apple seems likely to follow.

    Although the $150 Pebble watch can be used to control a music playlist or run simple apps like RunKeeper, a cloud-based fitness tracker, Migicovsky and his team purposely designed the watch to do as little as possible, leaving more complicated apps for phones. This emphasis on making the watch “glanceable” informed nearly every aspect of the design. The black-and-white screen, for example, can be read in direct sunlight and displays content persistently without needing to “sleep” to conserve battery power, as color or touch-screen displays do.

    These watches are coming to market a few months before Google Glass, which is another attempt to solve the problem Pebble addresses—namely, that “interacting with our phones has a certain overhead that doesn’t need to be there,” says Mark Rolston, chief creative officer of Frog Design. But Google Glass will try to replace the smartphone altogether by combining a computer and monitor into eyeglass frames so that wearers can “augment” their view of the world with data. That lines up with predictions about the advent of wearable computing, but it’s easy to see Pebble’s idea being much more popular. By making use of a watch—a classic accessory—Pebble is trying to fit in to long-standing social norms rather than create new ones.

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