One Week with the Pebble Smartwatch

I’ve always thought the Pebble looked interesting. A kickstarter sensation in 2012, the original Pebble was the first smartwatch to really catch on. It strikes a great balance between a fully featured smartwatch (like the Apple Watch) and a more basic activity tracker (like a Fitbit). It does notifications and fitness, but also has some basic apps. The E ink display can be on all the time and still allow the battery to last for days. All of this has earned the Pebble a loyal following. Unfortunately, that following is coming to an end. Fitbit has purchased Pebble, and has decided to end the product line. Fitbit had committed to supporting the Pebble through the end of the year, but after that there’s no promises. Fitbit offers its own smartwatch (The Fitbit Blaze), and apparently they weren’t too keen on Pebble’s competition. All of this led to a surprise for me last week.

The Pebble Time Steel

My girlfriend’s dad had a Pebble. After the company was bought, he switched to the Fitbit Blaze. Fortunately, I’m a good boyfriend, and he was kind enough to give his Pebble to me! So as of last week, I am now the owner of a Pebble Time Steel! I really like it. Like I said, it can’t do everything the Apple Watch can, but it doesn’t need to. I’ve had a week to play around with it, and I’ve found my three favorite use cases.

Notifications

The Pebble’s main purpose is to display notifications on your wrist, and it does a great job with this. If I get a text, reminder alert, or GroupMe, I can read the notification right on my wrist, which is seriously useful. The Pebble app lets me customize which notifications come to my watch (read: not Facebook, Twitter, or the like). There is a way to respond to text messages directly from the watch, using either your voice or a selection of pre-written replies. However, since other apps can’t send iMessages on iOS, this can only be done through a third-party service that accesses your phone account and sends SMS messages for you. I’m still not sure how comfortable I am with this, so I haven’t set it up yet.

Fitness

The Pebble also acts as a great activity and sleep tracker. Step counting is especially useful since the watchface I’m using shows my progress directly on the main screen (it’s the green circle in the above photo). More useful than that, however, is the sleep tracking. If you’re not using a smart alarm (an alarm that tracks your sleep cycles and wakes you up when you’re in a period of light sleep), you’re really missing out. There are some great apps that do this using your phone, but the Pebble is so much more convenient because it’s automatic.

“Siri”

By far the most fun I’ve had with the Pebble is attempting to recreate a voice assistant of some kind. All I really wanted to do was dictate reminders, which the Pebble is supposed to be able to do, but it never works for me. I was Googling around for another solution, and I found an amazing app for Pebble called “This Then That.” This app is not officially made by If This Then That, but it does allow the voice engine of the Pebble to connect to IFTTT. This opens up a huge world of possibilities. I’ve currently got two voice triggers set up. Starting a command with the words “Make a note…” sends all subsequent text to my Day One journal. I can also set a reminder by saying “Remind me…” Unfortunately, IFTTT can’t set iCloud reminders directly (without leaving the IFTTT app running), but I’ve rigged it up so that it sends me a text message, which contains a link to the Workflow app, which then sets a reminder. So all I have to do is hit that link next time I pull out my phone. It’s kind of ridiculous, but it does the job, and it’s super convenient.

So those are my thoughts on the Pebble. I wasn’t always a fan of smartwatches, but now I’m sold. A smartwatch can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything a smartphone can, but there are some things that really are easier on your wrist. I love the Pebble. Thanks again to my girlfriend’s dad! ••

Update 3.7.17: Yesterday I enabled the text replies feature and it’s incredibly convenient. Being able to shoot off a pre-written quick reply in just a few seconds, without pulling out my phone, is awesome. Dictating a message is less convenient, especially because the Pebble dictation engine can be finicky. Still, all things considered, it’s a great feature!

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Link: The Limitations of the iPad

M. G. Siegler writing on 500ish Words:

“But [the iPad] is actually my favorite device. Yes, you read that right. While I certainly use the iPhone far more than the iPad, I enjoy the iPad more. It’s just perfect for what I actually like doing — reading, writing, needlessly getting distracted on Twitter, and such. In fact, I like using it so much that I find myself very annoyed these days.

Siegler goes on to say that he’s annoyed at the iPad because it’s such a great device, but it still can’t fully replace his Mac. There are some things that the iPad simply can’t do, or can’t do well enough. I feel exactly the same way. My iPad is also my favorite device, and it’s frustrating that it’s still so limited sometimes. Recent years have brought some great improvements (like split-screen multitasking), but we still have a long way to go. Here’s hoping Apple prioritizes the iPad, makes it better, and allows it to fulfill everything we all want it to be. ••

To Waze or Not to Waze

(Sorry I haven’t posted in a few weeks, everyone. School’s been super busy. I’m gonna try to get back into writing now 😊 I’ve got something exciting planned for next week 😏)

Waze is an interesting take on GPS navigation. Rather than just using GPS to get to places you’re unfamiliar with, Waze invites you to use your GPS everywhere you go. You see, Waze’s goal is to save you every possible minute while you’re driving – to work, to school, or wherever you’re going. So instead of taking you along the most direct route, Waze takes you on what it hopes is the fastest route – even if that means going through neighborhoods, on and off the interstate, whatever.

Waze achieves this the way I assume most GPS apps get their traffic data – through thousands and thousands of uses, or “Wazers,” with their phones in their cars. As you driving using Waze, you’re also reporting back just how fast that route really was, which influences whether Waze sends the next driver along that route too, or if they get a different path. However, Waze goes a step further on data collection. Wazers can report all kinds of hazards along the road, from construction, to stopped vehicles, and even police and red light cameras. I don’t like that Waze encourages people to use their phones to report things while driving (there is a hands-free voice mode), but I will (guiltily) admit that it’s nice to have this sort of info.

This brings me to the question: Do I use Waze everywhere I go, like it’s intended? No, I don’t. I tried. When I first downloaded the app, I did. But it got pretty old. When I drive to school, I basically have two, maybe three different routes I can take. And they’re all within five minutes of each other. So generally, Waze doesn’t really save me much time, and often it takes me on the same path I would’ve taken anyway. Even if I do take a different path, once I’ve made the first turn or two I know which way I’m going. And those voice prompts get really annoying.

I’ve gotten to the point where I only use Waze when I’m not sure which route would be fastest. Right now, that includes:

  • When I leave school at a different time than normal, and I don’t know what the traffic is like.
  • During the heat of traffic, when all routes could be equally bad.
  • Driving to my new church, where I’m still getting the hang of the traffic on the different routes.

So that’s how I use Waze. Have you tried the app? If so, how do you use it? I’m interested in hearing how other people use this app, so let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter 😊

What I really want is for Waze to just send me a notification before I leave, telling me which route (“I-75” or “Highway 41”) is fastest, and then I wouldn’t even have to use the app at all. Oh well.  ••

Quick Tip: Print to PDF on iOS

I don’t print much these days. The kinds of things I once would’ve printed – ticket confirmations, important emails, and the like – I now just save as a PDF. On the Mac, I just use the Print to PDF function from the print dialog. This means that anything I can print I can save. Until iOS 10, you needed a third-party app to do something like this, but no longer.


The process is really straightforward:

  • Select “Print” from any share sheet.
  • Pinch outward on the document thumbnail (like you’re trying to zoom in).
  • This will open a PDF of the document, which you can then share to any app.

Didn’t we have a share sheet to begin with? Yes, but in this case that would’ve only shared the link to the webpage. This saves the webpage as a document. This is also great for the Mail app, which doesn’t have share sheets for messages. You can however, print from the Mail app, which means you can now share PDFs of emails anywhere.

This is another great way that the iPad is slowly becoming a more powerful computing device, and I say more power for the iPad is a good thing for everyone. ••

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Link: Apple Rectangles

Mark Stanton writing on Hacker Noon:

“Ever since iOS 7, app icons went from being rounded squares to something more complex and refined. Apple has created design consistency between their hardware and software.”

This article is fascinating. Fair warning, it’s pretty nerdy, but it’s a really cool and obscure “turns out” that I had never heard before. The level of detail that Apple puts into both hardware and software is incredible. I for one didn’t even notice the app icon change in iOS 7. ••

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Link: My Interview on The Sweet Setup

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Image credit: The Sweet Setup

http://thesweetsetup.com/nick-fosters-mac-ios-setup/

My interview on The Sweet Setup runs today!  One of the things TSS does is interview someone each week and ask them about what devices and apps they use to be productive every day.  This week that someone is me!

If you’re not familiar with The Sweet Setup, you should go check out the rest of their site (after you read my interview of course).  In addition to these interviews, they also do great app roundups.  Big thanks to Jeffrey Abbott for working with me on the interview, I had a lot of fun with it!  ••

Bear: Beautiful Notes for iOS and Mac

I’ve been using iCloud Notes for about a year now.  In general, it works well.  After using Day One, however, I’ve been bitten by the Markdown bug, and I wanted to find a new text app that supported it.  Markdown is kind of like pseudo-HTML formatting.  It’s simpler to type than standard HTML, and it’s definitely faster than all the tapping involved with formatting in the Notes app.  I also liked the idea of organizing things with tags rather than folders.  Tags are better than folders because you can put a single note under multiple tags if you want.  These criteria led me to Bear.


The first thing you’ll notice about bear is that it’s absolutely beautiful.  The colors and typefaces are amazing.  Bear’s simple interface is exactly the same on iOS and macOS, which is awesome.  The editor is clean and distraction free, and shows Markdown output as you type.

But Bear goes beyond just writing text.  You can add images inline, or any other type of file as an attachment.  It’s also very easy to export all your notes and attachments from the Mac app (I’ve been burned by iCloud Notes here before).  Tagging is as simple as adding a hashtag anywhere in the note.  You can also use #tag/subgroups or #multi word tags#.  These are all automatically detected and can be found in the sidebar, or you can simply search for them.  You can also use other special search operators such as @attachments or @untagged.

Bear uses a subscription model for its pricing.  It’s $1.49/month or $14.99/year, with a one week or one month trial, respectively.  This subscription covers iPhone, iPad, and Mac.  This is great, since I’ve found many reasonably priced iOS apps have absurdly priced Mac counterparts.  At first I was put off by the subscription model, but I’ve since warmed up to it.  I realized that I would happily pay a flat $15 for Bear.  However, I move around between apps like this somewhat frequently, and in a year, I may have found something else.  If Bear still fits my needs in a year, I’m willing to support the developers by paying again.  Longevity and adaptability are worth paying for.  ••