A friend recently asked, “So, what do you like about your Pebble1?” He couldn’t quite see the point of having one. I’ve only had mine for a few months, but when I do forget to put it on my wrist in the morning, I find that I constantly miss it.

I thought about this question for a bit. “Well, you know when your phone goes off in your pocket and you have to go all the way into your pocket, take it out, and check it only to find it’s some spam from LinkedIn? Well, that doesn’t happen anymore.”

“Hmm,” my friend nodded, unconvinced.

Only later did I realize that I’d gotten it completely wrong. I was describing a feature of the Pebble, not its value proposition. Sure, the Pebble allows for more efficient triaging of push notifications, but the real value-add is far more significant; it allows you to have more meaningful interactions with your phone2.

Admittedly, it does this in a roundabout way. It delivers notifications to you more reliably. A phone vibrating in your pocket (or even a chime in a slightly noisy environment) is easily missed. Thus, we’ve been conditioned to check our phones every 5 minutes, because there just might be that juicy tidbit we missed on Facebook or Twitter, or more importantly, an urgent email or text message. A notification system vibrating directly on your wrist is much harder to miss and offers a lower cost for false positives; if you thought a notification was there but were wrong, you’d have wasted a glance instead of a pocket fumble (not to mention the larger cost of oh-my-phone-is-already-out-might-as-well-check-my-twitter-feed).

This sounds fairly trivial, but the implications are huge. I interact with my phone in two primary ways. Although I’m probably not the first person to do so, I’ll call them pull and push interactions. When I am actively searching for information (for example, looking for movie times), I’m engaging in a pull interaction. Other times, information is being pushed to me. For example, I may be notified of a new email, or that my dentist appointment is tomorrow. For obvious reasons, pull interactions are much more meaningful3. As more apps (and emails) drown us with potentially noisy notifications4, meaningful pushed content is becoming diluted, requiring significant energy to find stuff that we actually care about. The Pebble solves this problem by decreasing the cost of engaging pushed content.

I estimate the Pebble has reclaimed about half the time I spend interacting with my phone. I pull out my phone much less frequently, and when I do, the interaction is much more meaningful.

  1. In case you aren’t aware, the Pebble is an e-ink smartwatch that allows you to view push notifications from your phone. Pebble also features a whole marketplace of apps, but in my experience, the app ecosystem is still fairly immature, and I haven’t found any must-have apps yet.

  2. “Meaningful interaction” seems like kind of a vague term. Of course, I just sort of made this term up, so without having to go too deep into it, an interaction is meaningful when it aligns with the user’s interests. For example, being notified of spam emails in my inbox is not meaningful. Looking for movie times is. (These are two types of interactions I’ll mention later.) This is heavily context-based, of course. An interaction that is meaningful at one point in time might not be relevant at a different one. More on this later.

  3. This should hopefully clarify what “meaningful interactions” are. When you are pulling information, you’ve expressed an interest in acquiring that information. Pushed information suffers from the fact that it may or may not be of interest to you at the time.

  4. I mean this in the sense of signal vs. noise.