Never Forget Your Core Function

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

I do want to preface this rant by saying that I’ve been a mostly-happy Pebble user since their launch on Kickstarter. The initial ship date window was woefully underestimated, but the watch eventually arrived and delivered pretty well on its promise. There were some hardware hiccups along the way, but the support team at Pebble has been great and kept me motoring along with my Kickstarter Edition without (unresolved) complaint. Further, Pebble continues to support the original hardware with their software updates even though it’s clearly long in the tooth and their development cycles are pretty aggressive.

That said, I’ve noticed a fairly recent change in how their firmware handles significant error conditions.1 While I’m happy to say that I don’t have a tremendous amount of experience with this undesired scenario, I recall that before the watch would default to a non-interactive, bare-bones watch mode before you’re able to address the error through firmware reinstall (or other problem-solving effort). Recently however, I’ve been presented with this:

An unusable error condition in the Pebble smartwatch firmware

This change effectively makes the watch a brick, uselessly strapped to the user’s wrist for the entirety of the time before they're able to troubleshoot.2 If the user presented with this behavior isn’t doing anything at the time and can immediately sync up the watch with their phone to install a firmware update (or reinstall it altogether), you can make the argument it’s not a big deal.

However, we all know reality doesn’t work that way. For example, the user could be in back-to-back meetings and might have no other way to inconspicuously check the time. In this scenario, Pebble has lost sight of its core function.

A Humble Suggestion link intact

If at all possible, in these sorts of significant error conditions Pebble should go back to reverting to a “low-feature mode” – a simple digital watch-face that delivers on the core function of the device: displaying the time. The annoyance of losing the super-set of smartwatch features is inescapable, but why completely disrupt the user’s experience if you can avoid it?

  1. For the purpose of this argument, I’m defining “significant error condition” as something that prevents the watch from operating normally but shy of a “fatal error condition” that I would expect to be a complete, unresponsive power-down sort of scenario. 

  2. It should be noted that I have no indication as to whether there are different stages of these significant error conditions, which might explain why I’ve seen these two different screens. All I know is that before July 1st, I never saw this particular screen and haven’t seen the bare-bones watch mode since.