How the Pebble E-Paper Watch Works

Jonathan Strickland

Pebble Technology

Out of all the success stories spawned by Kickstarter, the Pebble Watch might be the most dramatic. The campaign launched in 2012 with a goal of $100,000. By the time the campaign ended on May 18, 2012, the project had earned more than 10 million dollars from eager backers. What sets this smartwatch apart from other gadgets on the market?

The watch has an e-paper display, not to be confused with e-Ink. It's a display designed to reflect light so that you can easily read the display in bright conditions. Compare this to a back-lit display, which can be challenging to read on a sunny day, and you'll see the difference right away. The Pebble also has a backlight you can activate for those times when there's not enough ambient light to read the watch's face.

E-paper uses flexible sheets of plastic to create a display. In the case of the Pebble, this display is black and white. The 1.26-inch screen's resolution is 144 x 168 pixels. According to Pebble Technology CEO Eric Migicovsky, the screen also has a refresh rate of 30 frames per second. It's also protected with a scratch- and water-resistant coating.

The Pebble's watch face is customizable -- you can choose one of several different display options or even download new ones. If no one has designed the watch face you want, you can develop your own using Pebble Technology's software developer kit (SDK). But the Pebble does more than just display the current time. It's a smartwatch, after all.

By pairing a Pebble with either an iOS or Android smartphone, you can get notifications from your phone on your watch. The Pebble uses Bluetooth pairing between your phone and the watch to receive updates. When an update comes through -- the Pebble can display incoming text messages, emails and other notifications -- a motor inside the watch causes the casing to vibrate, alerting you to the incoming message. You can also control your smartphone's audio playback using the watch directly.

Rather than investing in a touch-screen technology, the Pebble has physical buttons that allow you to navigate commands and customize your experience. The company claims the Pebble's battery will last seven days on a single charge. The Pebble's recharging cable has a magnetic surface. Pebble Technology says this design was necessary to make the Pebble water resistant -- because you don't have to plug a cable into a port, the watch can keep water out. You can even go swimming while wearing the Pebble.

But you should remember that by pairing the Pebble to a smartphone using Bluetooth you'll also be draining your smartphone's battery. Pebble Technology says the typical smartphone's battery life will be affected between five and 10 percent as a result. Pebble supports the Bluetooth 4.0 standard, which is more power efficient than earlier versions of Bluetooth's protocol. But until smartphones follow suit that might not matter much for you and your phone's battery.

The company has already seen great success in its Kickstarter campaign. Now it must face the challenge of meeting demand and keeping up with customer expectations. I've got to admit that I'm excited about the watch and the idea that a small start-up company can make a big impact on the consumer electronics market.

How excited? I've pre-ordered my own cherry red Pebble. I'll be sporting it as soon as I get it. I'm prepared for a long wait -- the company has promised that it will fulfill all requests in the order they were received. With nearly 70,000 backers to work through and a production rate of about 1,500 watches per day I'm going to be asking everyone what time it is for a while.