image/svg+xml Rebble · Blog

Appy New Year!

Hi again! It’s a new year, in an old house, with more technology I’ll never understand. But amidst all the chaos of the seasons changing, AWS being unfathomable to me, and Alexx Reed being about 50% smarter of a lyricist than I’ll ever understand all the references to, I have exciting news, and that is: for the first time in over a year, there is a brand new app for Pebbles in a Pebble app store!

If you’ve been following along on Reddit or on Discord (shoutouts to our loyal fans!), you might have heard that Wowfunhappy has recently written an RSS reader app for Pebble. This is really cool in a lot of ways – he did a bang-up job on the UI for it, and people on Reddit are already finding great uses for it, enabling things that they weren’t previously able to do on their Pebbles (like check work schedules that came as RSS feeds). And, of course, he released it entirely as open source software, which definitely speaks to me.

The fact that it’s a cool project I think is a great reason to highlight it here. But the reason I wanted to tell you about this is that this also marks a milestone of the first time we’ve added a new app to the Rebble App Store since the very first time we imported the Pebble App Store’s contents. I spent a few hours last week working with Jonathan to get this all set up, and I’m pleased to announce that the Rebble App Store is (mostly) open for submissions! Here’s some directions for how to do that, if you’ve got some Pebble apps burning a hole in your hard disk, or if you’re ready for the creative juices to start flowing. The process is a little janky right now, but I’m definitely happy to help however I can – and there are lots of us in #app-dev on Discord ready to answer questions!

It’s a new day in Pebble app development. Let’s see what you’ve got – here’s wishing all of us Rebblers an appy new year!

The shiny Rebble future: one year after the Pebble server shutdown

Hi out there, Rebble world! Joshua on the microphone here for a bit. It’s been a year since the Pebble servers have shut down, and I’m still wearing my beloved Pebble 2 on my wrist every day; as far as I can tell, it’s still the case that nothing else out there compares to these things. As the buttons start to wear out on this one, though, I’m starting to ask some of the same questions that I hear echoed out in the Pebble world: what does the future of Rebble and of Pebble-like things look like? Well, I’m an optimist on that – and I wanted to fill you all in on some of the reasons why. I’ll catch you after the fold.

Lingering in the back of my head have been three things: money, movement, and hardware. Without money, the Rebble web services can’t run; without forward movement, we fade quietly into the sunset; and without hardware, there’s nothing to put on our wrists! On all three of those, I have pretty darn good news in the short term, and I have ideas for the long run, too. I’m going to get into each of those in a moment, but before I do, I want to give you the same proviso that Katharine did last year: I can’t guarantee the future, but I’m going to give you my best guess. Let’s start!

Money

I think this is the biggest question on everyone’s mind after we watched the downfall of our beloved Pebble Technology Corporation: how can we build a sustainable way to keep our watches ticking? After all, web hosting can be pretty expensive for a cloud application like Rebble, and we’re not even making any revenue by selling watches. The solution that we came up with was to have a two-tier model: everybody gets access to the basic services for Pebble for free – firmware updates, the app store, account management, and such, but the things that cost us money – dictation and weather – we’d charge a small amount of money for, and if we got the math right, the paid users would subsidize the free users.

So the question is: how well did that work out? I’m happy to say that it seems to be working pretty well. We have around 7,000 paid users, which comes out to about an annual run rate of around $190,000. This means that we’re doing a fair bit better than breaking even for now: even though we’re not drowning in cash, Rebble is definitely managing to pay its own rent from Amazon. This is heartwarming news, and I hope that it makes everyone feel better about the sustainability of Rebble itself, and also about Rebble’s model for running services.

On that front, I wanted to thank all of you who are Rebble subscribers: without you, it wouldn’t be possible to keep this service running, and you all are amazing proof that people will pay to sustain technology that they want to have more of in their life. :heart_eyes: Maciej Ceglowski, proprietor of a small bookmarking service called Pinboard, wrote a good piece a few years ago about the importance of small paid services, and how they help build business models that center their users as a priority, instead of business models that center investors or surveillance systems as priorities; I have looked to that as inspiration, and I’m glad that we can follow in those footsteps. It’s a joy to serve you all!

I suppose this would be the right time, also, to invite those of you who haven’t joined us as subscribers to come on board! I think that $3/month (or $33/year, if you subscribe for a year at a time) is a great value for being able to dictate messages while I’m out on my bike, and for knowing at a glance when the sun is going to close me out without having to pull out my phone – and, of course, as I noted above, subscriptions go towards keeping Rebble sustainable. So it’s never too late to join the Rebble-lution!

Movement

One worry, of course, is that if Rebble is standing still, we start to look pretty dead. After all, we’d been pretty quiet for about a year after the initial Rebble Web Services launch. Well, I assure you that we’re not dead! Some of you with eagle eyes :eyes: have been watching commits to the Rebble repositories, and have noticed that the pace of development has picked up some over the past few months, culminating with the most recent launch of Timeline. You might be asking: what lead to this sudden surge in motion? And will the development continue?

Well, in May, Katharine, Ish Ot Jr., and I got together in a Hangout, and we spent some time thinking about the future of Rebble. We decided that we had a little bit of money left to spare, and that we wanted to reinvest it in the development of Rebble, and so we’d pay someone to do a little engineering work. Well, precisely, we’d pay, well – me! About a year ago, I left my previous day job to do some software and hardware consulting, and as a result of that, it suddenly became possible for me to dedicate time in small quantities, rather than as “everything or nothing”. For the past few months, I’ve been doing about six hours of paid work a week or so on Rebble (and maybe another five or six during the evenings and on the weekends!) to knock off some features that we’ve been hoping to build.

I’ve been doing a bunch of work behind the scenes on building development tools and administrative features so that we can help you out with billing problems, but Timeline was the first major fruit of that work that was visible to you, our beloved users. I don’t think Timeline will be the end, either: on my to-do list is to start building out the app store developer portal, and even some work on longer-term ideas for keeping the Pebble ecosystem alive. Of course, all of the work that I’m doing is and always will be open-source, just like the rest of Rebble (it’s even written into the contract!).

I’m doing this all on the back of the amazing work that Katharine did to get Rebble Web Services off the ground. She basically put this whole thing together single-handedly, and I owe her incredible thanks for such a strong foundation to keep building on top of. If you haven’t watched her talk from !!Con West 2019, it’s a great story about how we got here, told expertly in 10 minutes – go watch it; you won’t regret it!

A year ago, Ish Ot Jr. wrote and said that we’re just getting started, and he was right. It feels to me like we have a path forward to keep building Rebble into the future: we took a breather after we launched, but we’re back at it, and now we’re geared up to – as Pebble liked to say – keep making awesome happen! :rocket:

Hardware

The last piece of the puzzle, I claim, is hardware. I’m not the only one with holes bursting in the buttons of his Pebble 2. Pebble Technology Corporation isn’t making any more of the things, so in theory, our userbase is only shrinking from here, and that’s not a good place to be. How can we keep more Pebbles running for longer, and is there ever a possibility of there being more?

Pebble life support: you can save your Pebble now!

I am a die-hard believer in my Pebble 2, but as we all know, these things have a serious design defect: the silicone buttons on the side fall apart after about a year. There have been a handful of makeshift solutions out there, but I never found the Sugru approach to be great. Fortunately, the quality of 3D printing has gotten quite good in recent years – and even more fortunately, two wonderful Pebblers have been experimenting with hardware to rebuild Pebbles stronger, and, frankly, I think even better-looking. Tation and Astosia have a Shapeways store with all manner of exciting fixes for your Pebble 2, including entirely new cases that use the original “OG” Pebble buttons; they also have Imgur albums with the guts of how to dissasemble and reassemble the devices. They’re also experimenting with replacement 3D printed rubber buttons that you can glue right on. So if your Pebble 2 is falling apart, don’t despair: there are fixes that you can make today to bring it back to life! There are also some models available on Thingiverse, for those inspired to print their own.

The batteries in these things also don’t last forever, we’ve found. Luckily, it seems like you can get anything in China if you know where to look – people have had success with batteries from Aliexpress for the original Pebbles, for Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel, and for Pebble 2. If you’re handy doing a little soldering, Pebble batteries are not too tricky to replace, and you can get years more of reliable service from your beloved Pebble.

Pebble life support going forward

Here’s the bit where I start to speculate a little bit. I’ve heard rumblings of the GadgetWraps guys making some side buttons for Pebble 2 with their beautiful silicone molding process. If they do, it could be possible to get the same lovely smooth feeling buttons that you were used to, without any major surgery at all. If that sounds like something you’d like, you might want to shoot them some mail telling them that you’d be interested!

I’ve also been talking a little bit with a low-volume injection molding company. I don’t want to say too much about that, since I don’t know where it will end up, but it’s definitely possible that in the not-so-distant future, we could have new cases for Pebbles in all manner of interesting shapes designs, and materials. The logistics of selling them are very scary to me, but if there’s interest, Astosia, Tation, and I are interested in making it happen!

The post-Pebble problem

Of course, this is all well and good, but how can we bring new Rebblers into the fold? In some ideal universe, it would be nice to sell new hardware, without all of the pain of trying to limp along something that we didn’t design. What if we could improve on Pebble with new features? After all, Bluetooth microcontrollers have come a long way in the last few years in terms of power consumption…

It sounds like a pipe dream, but it’s not entirely. Over the Christmas break last year, I designed an nRF52840-powered microcontroller board that, hopefully, could be shrunk down into the form factor of a watch. A month or two later, I had a circuit board that I called “Asterix” that I had Bluetooth and a display up and running on … and a month after that, I managed to bring RebbleOS up on that, along with my Pebble app “Dali Clock”. For the first time in history, I think, I had an application that was built using only Pebble tools running on non-Pebble Technology Corp hardware!

I don’t want to get your hopes up too much. There’s a lot of work to do. Barry – who some of you on Discord may know as ginge – did an amazing job laying the groundwork for RebbleOS, but as everybody who’s come and asked about it knows, we still have a long way to go on the software front. The hardware that I have is about four times too big; I think it’s definitely possible to shrink it, but it’ll require a good amount of effort to do. And the question of manufacturing it looms huge in my mind, and I don’t know where to even start with that.

But it feels possible, in a way that it didn’t a year ago. I’m hoping that I can put some time towards that once I get Timeline settled in and under control. I don’t know anything about manufacturing, and distributing and selling them scares the dickens out of me even if I manage to make more than one of them. So, hey, if you know about these things and want to take charge of a piece of it – come in and help out! I’d be happy to work with you!

On that front, I’ll leave you with an exciting little video of Asterix booting into RebbleOS. It’s way less complete than it looks: it’s incredibly unstable, and it doesn’t even know how to talk to the Pebble app yet. There’s so much I don’t know, and I don’t even know how to estimate how much is behind it. But it’s hard not to look at it and grin. What is the purpose of the future, if not to give us something to aspire to?

Conclusions

Rebble is alive and well. I touched on three pieces: money, progress, and hardware. These three things all feed into each other: money keeps us alive, and helps us make progress; progress keeps us alive, and helps us make hardware; and keeping hardware alive keeps us alive, and lets Rebble keep making money. In the short term, Rebble is healthy on all three of these fronts. There’s a plausible idea for how we could remain healthy going forward, too! It’s going to take work, and it’s going to take the continued support of you, our amazing community, but it’s not impossible.

On a personal note, it feels very rewarding to get to serve yinz Rebblers. Pebble built a passionate group of users. I’m excited.

Ok, that seems like about it for today. Thanks for staying with us so far, and I’m looking forward to coming with you all into the Shiny Rebble Future – keep your Pebbles on your wrists!

It's Timeline time!

Hi there! Long time, no talk. Sorry for the silence, but I assure you that one year on, we’re alive and well, and we’ve got great things to share! This is the first of two posts coming your way – in the next post, we’ll talk about the :sparkles: shiny future of Rebble :sparkles:, but for now, we have an exciting announcement, and that is:

You guessed it, it’s finally time: Timeline time, to be specific! We’ve been talking about it for a year now, and thanks to the heroic effort of Maxim Teryokhin, Timeline is back up and running! :heart_eyes: If you loved apps like Note to Self, they’re ready to roll again on your wrist. We’ve spent the last few weeks carefully setting it up and testing it on RWS for everyone to use, and we’re so excited to announce that it’s ready. Timeline by now should have rolled out to all subscribers, and client-side timeline apps should work for you! We’re still rolling it out to non-subscribers – for more information on that, and on timeline apps that depend on a server, and, heck, a few other things we’ve done in the intervening time, read on below the fold.

Timeline rollout

You can tell if Timeline has hit your account yet by checking your account page. If you see a line item, “Timeline sync interval”, your account has Timeline enabled, and the next time your phone updates services, it’ll be ready to go! (If you see the “Timeline sync interval” line, and pins don’t seem to ever make it into your Timeline, you can try rerunning the initial setup. And, if you are getting errors from Timeline apps, then try uninstalling and reinstalling the watchapps in question from inside the Pebble app on your phone, so that you get the patched versions!)

All subscribers should have access to Timeline now. To make sure our servers stay happy and healthy, Timeline will be rolled out to non-subscribers over the course of about a week, so keep checking in periodically! (Of course, if you want access to Timeline right now, subscribing will instantly enable it for your account, and we’d love to have your support!)

Timeline sync

Believe it or not, Timeline is one of the more expensive services we offer, because everybody’s phone has to check in regularly to see if there are new pins. Subscribers get the added benefit of being able to check in every half an hour for new Timeline events, but everybody gets to use Timeline, even if you’re not a subscriber – non-subscriber pins will sync every three hours, instead. We’re working on ways to “opt in” to more frequent Timeline checks for power users – stay tuned for that!

Server-side Timeline apps

There are really two categories of Timeline apps: apps that post pins to your Timeline directly from your phone (“phone-side Timeline apps”), and apps that post pins from the web. We’ve automatically fixed up all the phone-side ones we could find – all 100 or so of them – but for apps that post pins to your Timeline from the web, the developers of those will have to do the patching. Luckily, the change is simple: all a developer has to do is change the endpoint that you post to from https://timeline-api.getpebble.com to https://timeline-api.rebble.io. App developers, get in touch with us if you have any questions – and users, if an app you want doesn’t work yet, gently remind the developer that we’re alive and well, and that we’d love to have them aboard!

One thing that we currently don’t support is Timeline topics. (Topics were a way that a developer could broadcast an event without having to name each of the users that cared about that event, and users could subscribe to an event.) It’s not fundamentally impossible to do that, but we haven’t implemented it yet; if you’re a developer who really wants that functionality again, get in touch and we’ll talk!

Subscription renewal

Some of you might have gotten an e-mail that your credit card has expired, without information on what to do about it. Never fear, Rebble is still here! Go to your account page, and click ‘Unsubscribe’, and then just subscribe again. If you have any time left on your subscription, it’ll automatically carry over until your next subscription begins. If you run into any problems with billing, just reply to the receipt that you got from Stripe, or reach out to us on Discord, and we’ll be happy to get you all squared away!

Dictation on iOS

Now that Note to Self is back, you might be wondering – what ever happened with dictation on iOS 11 and up? The answer is: we have a fix! :microphone: Now, when you connect your watch to a Rebble-activated phone, a firmware update will get sent to your Pebble that fixes dictation on iOS 11. Hooray! (Note that this still won’t get you “send text” functionality; that requires phone carrier agreements that we’re not quite so keen on. :no_mobile_phones:)

Hey, where’d the Android app go?

Some of you may have noticed that the Android app is no longer on the Play Store. That’s true! A while ago, Google changed some requirements around for apps that use SMS on the Play Store, and the Pebble app didn’t make the cut. Don’t worry – the app still works just fine, you just have to download it from somewhere else! You can download it from APKMirror, and you’ll be right as rain to run Rebble on your new Android phone.

Coming up soon

Ok, that’s all from me for right now about the most important updates in the recent past. But what’s that? Are we looking… to the FUTURE?? You bet that there’s more where that came from! Coming up soon: a bright sustainable future for the Rebble Alliance! :rocket:

And, of course, we enjoy talking to Pebblers who still love their devices just like we do. So if you have any questions, or just want to say hi, come visit us on Discord – we’d love to have you join the party!

Ushering in the Rebble Era!

It’s a new day. It’s a new month (:ok_hand: :punch:). But most importantly, it’s a new era! :rocket: It was over a year and half ago that Rebble first put its stake in the ground as the unofficial spearhead organization for continuing the advancement of the Pebble platform in the absence of Pebble Technology Corp. Re-reading that first blog post, a lot of the same feelings of fear, anxiety, resilience, and hope have been expressed in recent days as we make another transition - this time from Pebble web services to Rebble Web Services! What does that mean? Why is it necessary? When is it happening?! What do I need to do to participate??! Read on, and all will be explained! :bowtie:

Why RWS?

Katharine gave an extensive overview of affected services and their impact in an earlier blog post, so please peruse her detailed enumeration for complete insight, but the TL;DR is that Pebble’s current functionality relies on a fairly extensive collection of online services, all of which were slated to be disabled after June 30th. The particularly astute reader may observe that June 30th, 2018 is quite a bit more recent than the December 7th, 2016 announcement that Pebble had ceased operations - this is primarily due to the largesse of Fitbit, who were kind enough to extend services an extra six months beyond the already generous year given to help Pebble users transition. We try to mention this regularly, but we are immensely grateful to Fitbit for helping support the Pebble ecosystem at their own expense for all of this time. :blue_heart: Even with this gracious extension, it was still a race against the clock to provide a drop-in replacement for the existing services, for which we had no source code and little flexibility in order to maintain compatibility with existing apps and hardware.

Enter the pony

Apologies for the gushing praise that follows, but I assure you, it’s deserved. Rebble is made up of a fairly extensive team of contributors (apologies to the many who are not represented in these lists :blue_heart:) but in terms of Rebble Web Services, a particular member embraced the challenge of replacing the untold hours’ work of an entire corporation over the course of just a few weeks! :trophy: That somepony is our Sparkly Code Princess Katharine Berry, who - with respect to everyone involved - almost single-handedly recreated the necessary services and the production environment required to support them (shout out to @jwise too on deployment, plus these guys for styling and GitHub auth :heart:). Please Tweet your appreciation, give her Reddit Gold, or send her MLP plushes (clearly she has enough already, but, it’s surely the best way to demonstrate appreciation?!). Oh, and: subscribe! “How/huh?” you ask? Great segue! :grinning:

Enter the Rebble Era

As detailed in our last blog post, existing Pebble users had the option to retain their Pebble account data by linking their Rebble accounts before the Pebble service End of Life on June 30th. Even if you missed out on the chance to link accounts, or are a new user (welcome!), the process for transitioning to RWS is the same:

  • log into (or create) your Rebble account at https://auth.rebble.io/ on your mobile device (it should already have the official Pebble app installed)
  • (optionally) subscribe to get weather and dictation services (and even better: support the project!) via your account page
  • visit https://boot.rebble.io/ from your mobile device to switch the Pebble app to Rebble Web Services!!! :rocket:

The boot page contains instructions and caveats, but just as a heads up, iOS users need to wait 15 seconds then tap the yellow exclamation mark to log in, while Android users may need to log out or kill the app, but will eventually see a big red button to press (ignore the orange spinner if present), after which you’re all set (your Pebble may disconnect - that’s OK, just re-connect and you’ll be all set!).

Breaking: appstore superstar @sGerli has produced an iOS setup video - follow along for an even easier migration! :heart_eyes:

A return to normalcy

The above steps completed, you can officially consider yourself part of the Rebble Alliance! As such, you are free to enjoy the following services:

  • appstore - browse and download watchfaces and apps
  • locker - your personalized local cache of watchfaces and apps, as well as the ability to configure those that are configurable
  • firmware - make sure your watch is running the latest available bits!
  • language packs - Rebble is a worldwide movement - look at all this language support
  • support pages - we’re here to help - or at least these mirrored docs are!

For just $3/month, you can also enjoy:

  • dictation - reply or compose messages with your voice like some futuristic Dick Tracy!
  • weather - not just what it’s doing right now, but in the future too - know whether to bring an umbrella to tomorrow’s sunset - and when!

Not yet:

  • full Timeline support - while some Timeline functionality, such as pins from your local calendar, will continue to work, the server required by 3rd-party apps is not yet available (:soon:)
  • dictation on iOS 11 with Pebble Time Round or Pebble 2 - iOS 11 unfortunately broke this, but we think we might have a fix … :soon:
  • SMS replies on iOS - due to the unique arrangement that Pebble had with carriers in order to accomplish this, it is unlikely that we will be able to recreate this functionality :disappointed:

A bright, open future

This isn’t the end. It’s not even the beginning. It’s the bit just before the beginning when it seems like it should be the beginning but everything’s not actually quite :100: yet. Your bags are packed and you’re ready to go, but you’re waiting for your ride to the airport. Or maybe you’re already on the plane and it just hasn’t taken off yet. Or maybe you’re mid-flight and eagerly awaiting your destination. Or maybe you’re already there but waiting for that one friend who is always late to arrive. Wherever you are in this rapidly unraveling metaphor, Rebble is there with you, now, and in the future. It’s OK to be excited! But there’s so much more to come - not just the above-mentioned services, but the replacement appstore, and the replacement firmware, and the return of CloudPebble (CloudRebble?!), and the ability to submit new apps, and … well, we have to save something for the next Community Update! :heart_eyes: :rocket:

Getting Ready for Rebble

Hi again! I’m Katharine Berry, back with a brief update about the Rebble Web Services. As you have all probably noticed, we’ve been a bit quiet since my last post. We’ve all been very busy, so we haven’t had much time to blog lately. However, we’re still on the case, and before we go any further, we have something important for you to do!

Rebble Accounts

The Rebble account system is up and running, and now is the time for you to create your accounts. Head over to Rebble Auth and log in using your preferred site. You’ll then be asked to link your Pebble account. Please do: we will use this to import information from the Pebble servers before they shut down in order to help make the transition smoother.

It is especially important for developers to link their Pebble accounts now. Once the Pebble services shut down at the end of this month, we will no longer be able to identify developers who did not link their accounts, and so we will be unable to let them update or otherwise change their apps.

We are also going to use the number of accounts created to assist us in determining service usage and attempt to validate our assumptions about the number of users we expect to see.

That’s all there is to do right now: there is no app to install, and we are not yet ready for users to switch over to Rebble services. We will be sure to update you when we are!

So to repeat myself: please go and make your Rebble account right now. You must do so before the end of this month, and it only takes a minute!

Okay, now that that’s out of the way…

The State of Rebble Web Services

So here’s the bad news: we are probably not going to have everything in place in time for Fitbit’s shutdown. We are working hard to bring up services as quickly as we can. Indeed already have some backend services in place, such as auth, cohorts, and boot, with active work ongoing on the appstore and related services. However, Pebble is a complicated system, and we ended up with less time than we had hoped. I still expect that we will have at least some services up and running in time for the cutoff. I dare not speculate as to which but I promise we will have more updates before the end of the month. Even after Pebble’s services shut down, we will continue to work to bring up the remaining services, eventually reaching the collection of services described in my previous post.

Here’s some good news to go with that: a lot of Pebble functionality will keep working regardless of what we manage to put together. Your apps will still be installed, your notifications will still come through, and Pebble Health will still be entirely functional. Pebble apps and watchfaces will still work fine, too, except for those that create timeline pins.

Many of you have been asking what they will have to do to start using the Rebble Web Services. We aren’t ready yet, but when we are, it should actually be very easy: tap a link from our website on your phone, and you will be switched over to our services. Rebble Web Services will continue to work with the existing iOS and Android apps, so you have nothing to download or install. We may have an updated Pebble firmware with some bugfixes and Rebble-specific changes, but that will install automatically if necessary.

A number of you have also asked how you can give us money. Don’t fret! As previously mentioned, we intend to offer basic service for free, and charge a small monthly fee for access to Weather and Dictation, thereby funding the service. In order to avoid the risk of disappointing those who have paid us, we do not intend to open up payments until there is something to pay for.

Finally, we would like to extend our thanks to Fitbit once again: they have been extremely helpful in working with us to enable us to continue Pebble long after the original Pebble services shut down.

That’s all for now. More news coming soon!