Hands-on with Pebble Firmware 2.5; iOS 8 users get better notifications


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Pebble users are getting a few new goodies in Firmware 2.5, including a much better way to handle notifications on their smartwatches.

Dealing with notifications on Pebble used to a hassle. If you had multiple notifications stacked up, you could only wade through them by repeatedly tapping the down button. This often required multiple taps to get through a single message, and if you dismissed a notification on the watch, it would still show up in the notification bar when you took out your phone.

The latest firmware update eliminates these nuisances, at least for iOS 8 users. Now, each notification has a little “X” next to it, lined up with the middle button on the right side of the watch. Tapping the “X” dismisses the entire notification, and also removes it from Notification Center in iOS 8. Pebble then shuffles you on to the next notification, or returns you to the clock.

This may not seem like a big change, but it's especially useful when you have some unimportant messages in your stack of notifications. Instead of having to scroll through them, you can dismiss them immediately with one tap and move onto the next message.

Unfortunately, Pebble doesn't offer quite enough granularity with this new feature. Tapping the watch's left button will dismiss notifications without clearing them from your phone, but this removes all your pending notifications from the watch. It would be nice if you could somehow preserve and dismiss notifications on an individual basis, so only the important ones would be waiting for you when you took out your iPhone.

Of course, Pebble still doesn't let you take any meaningful action on the notification itself, such as deleting an e-mail or replying with a canned response. For that level of interactivity, you'll need to buy an Android Wear watch, or hold out for the Apple Watch next year.

The other key improvement in Pebble Firmware 2.5 is the arrival of compass support in Pebble apps. Pebble now offers a basic Compass app for free, and some third-party apps are already taking advantage of the new functionality. For instance, a $3 iPhone app called Where To? lets you search for nearby businesses from your phone, while the watch shows a little arrow to point you in the right direction.

pebblecompass Pebble

Pebble apps can point users in the right direction with compass support.

Both apps seemed accurate enough in my tests, and are a nice taste of what's to come. A quick look through the Pebble App Store showed geocaching and full-blown mapping apps on the way.

Pebble Firmware 2.5 also adds emoji support in notifications. This worked well for basic faces, though it still showed a blank square for more exotic emoji (such as a frog and a trophy).

For now, these improvements are only available to iOS users, but Pebble says “similar enhancements are in the pipeline” for Android.

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