Hands on: Pebble unlocks its new smartwatch app store

pebble with watch

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As promised at CES, smartwatch pioneer Pebble launched the Pebble appstore on Monday via version 2.0 of the Pebble App for iOS. (In a blog post, Pebble said that an update to its Android version was “coming very, very soon.”)

The new Pebble app has been completely updated from its previous identity as a simple tool to test connectivity and download custom watchfaces, and features three main sections. The My Pebble section allows you to load and unload watchfaces and apps from the phone (a Pebble can hold up to eight watchfaces total at one time). This is also where you adjust the settings of individual watchfaces and apps.

pebble appstore sub

The new pebble Appstore.

The Pebble appstore is further divided between the other two main sections of the app, Get Watchfaces and Get Apps. Both look pretty much like what we’ve come to expect from any app store: A rotating banner of featured items at the top is followed by top-rated apps, apps chosen as “Pebble Essentials” by Pebble’s curation staff, and everything else. The Get Apps section also has six categories: Daily, Tools & Utilities, Notifications, Remotes, Fitness, and Games.

Because the Pebble watch requires a Bluetooth connection with a smartphone to work, the concept of a Pebble app is a little more complex than a smartphone app: There are apps that load only on the phone (Foursquare, for example), ones that require a “Companion” app (SmartWatch+), and ones that are entirely encapsulated on your phone (RunKeeper). The Pebble appstore does a good job of displaying apps that require a Companion, with direct links, and even surfaces Companion-app-only apps within its catalog.

As you might expect on day one of a new app store launch, the app quality varies wildly. Because custom Pebble watchfaces have been available for some time now, many are quite refined and have been updated to work with the new store. And now that watchfaces can be configured via the Settings screen in the My Pebble section of the app, there’s no longer a need to have entirely different watchfaces for color scheme variations, or whether the face should report temperatures in Fahrenheit or Celsius. 

pebble app

Change settings on a watchface or app from the My Pebble section of the Pebble 2.0 app.

Even more exciting: Partner apps are capable of downloading data from the Internet by using the Pebble app as a go-between. For example, the Foursquare app was not only able to show me all the locations near me, but I was even able to check in at a location using my Pebble. Pebble’s apps become much more interesting once there’s some two-way communication in the mix.

But it’s still early days, and both Pebble users and Pebble itself should be careful. When I configured the Foursquare app, Pebble’s iOS app took me to an authentication page hosted by Foursquare, where I logged in to my account. But Leaf, an app that claims to allow remote-control of Nest thermostats, isn’t supported by Nest itself—and when I tried to configure the app, it prompted me with a generic webpage asking for my Nest user name and password.

pebble foursquare

The Foursquare app running on a Pebble.

I doubt there’s a nefarious plan at work here—since Nest doesn’t currently allow this level of connection to outside companies, creating an intermediary server that’s connected to the actual Nest servers is the only way for a clever hacker to make something like this work. But, regardless, I’m uncomfortable with providing my email address and password to a blank page with no labeling, and Pebble should be, too.

I’ve been wearing a Pebble for about a year, and while the hardware has always been pretty good, the software has lagged behind. With the release of the Pebble appstore and the Pebble 2.0 app, Pebble users may finally be seeing the software that their watch hardware has always deserved.

This story, "Hands on: Pebble unlocks its new smartwatch app store" was originally published by TechHive.

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