Pebblers with Android smartphones can now receive and respond to Android Wear notifications, a big step forward that might actually make the Pebble the least expensive Android Wear smartwatch currently available.
A new firmware update basically bring to Pebble the same active notifications that Android Wear users enjoy on their fancier—and more expensive—smartwatches. A navigation app’s notifications, for instance, will appear as turn-by-turn directions on the watch; a music app’s notifications could let you pause, skip a song and adjust the volume.
While the new addition isn’t as easy-to-use as it is on Android Wear devices (users can’t swipe to interact with notifications, and instead have to navigate the Pebble’s menus via its side buttons), it’ll still helps the elder statesman of the smartwatch world stay competitive as the countdown to the Apple Watch continues.
Androidizing Your Pebble
Start by updating your Pebble to the latest firmware (version 2.9), then download version 2.3.0 of the Pebble Android app from the Google Play Store. From there, you’ll also need to also install the Android Wear app.
The Pebble troubleshooting page explains a few workarounds for making the new Android Wear features work to your liking. Depending on the apps, there still may be a few hiccups along the way.
There are some unexpected pluses as well. Android Wear notifications on Pebble will allow users to store canned responses that users can send in response to text messages—a feature still missing from Android Wear without the use of a third-party app. The update also allows users to receive Gmail notifications and send and receive money via Square Cash.
Is Pebble’s Gain Android Wear’s Loss?
There are still some unknowns as well. It’s not clear that Pebble will handle all Android Wear notifications with equal grace, or if some won’t work at all. And we don’t know if Pebble has a “whitelist” of Android apps whose notifications will definitely work with the watch. I’ve reached out to Pebble and will update if I hear back. (See update below.)
Meanwhile, Pebble’s embrace of this Android Wear feature may have other implications worth considering. Google’s hardware partners are already hedging their bets on Android Wear by embracing alternative operating systems, either as replacements for Google or as experiments they could turn to should Android Wear falter.
Pebble’s Android Wear compatibility might, conceivably, strengthen the software platform by greatly expanding its wearable reach. On the other hand, if the integration works well, Pebble might well become a less expensive alternative that could ultimately impact the already limited sales of dedicated Android Wear smartwatches.
Update: A spokesperson from Pebble has reached out to ReadWrite to further elaborate on the new Android Wear feature in the latest firmware update.
“Pebble can perform any action or interact that is possible on an Android wear device in response to an incoming message, except for reply by voice,” said Rachel Manson from Pebble’s press team. “On top of that, Pebble can respond with things that Android Wear cannot at this time. For example, Pebble lets you reply to any notification with emoji, something that regular Android Wear watches cannot do right now.”
As far as whether there’s a list of pre-approved compatible apps, Manson says “there is no ‘whitelist.’ All notifications will work out of the box.”
Photos courtesy of Pebble