We've just finished developing a prototype hiking app for owners of the Pebble smart watch and iPhone that love the great outdoors!
For those of you that don't know Pebble is a new kind of watch, a smart-watch, which the makers hope will do to the watch industry what the iPhone did to the mobile phone market in 2007 and is described as :
"Pebble is the first watch built for the 21st century. It's infinitely customizable, with beautiful downloadable watchfaces and useful internet-connected apps."
Effectively this is a watch that supports "apps". Yes, just like your phone, you can now add apps to your watch! The app can act either indepentently of an 'attached' Android or iPhone device (e.g a simple game, or a good looking watch face) or it can connect to a partner app on the phone and leverage that device's capabilities (Internet access, GPS, music, camera etc).
Being keen on the great outdoors and located close to the glorious Peak District here in England we do quite a lot of walking. In recent years there have been many apps for the iPhone which help walkers navigate their way around unfamiliar terrain by taking advantage of the on-board GPS and the ever-increasing capabilities of the device to provide a really useful tool. However there are two drawbacks to these apps, firstly they can consume a lot of battery power, largely due to displaying the required info on those glorious hi-resolution screens, and secondly we may not always want to be wandering around with our phone in our hand as it could be raining or the terrain may not be suitable.
With this in mind we have designed "Pebble Hike"; a simple app that displays location information gathered by the phone but transmitted wirelessly over Bluetooth to the Pebble watch.
Using the "Up" and "Down" buttons on the right hand side of the watch you can cycle through three useful displays :
1) A UK-optimised display showing the Ordnance Survey sheet number and grid coordinates along with your current altitude in metres,
2) A WGS84 (world coordinates) display showiong your longitude and altitude and altitude in feet,
3) A representation of the Ordnance Survey grid square you are in with your position in that square indicated via a clearly visible marker along with your current approximate heading (N,NE,E,SE,S,SW,W or NW).
This information is continuously updated (well, every time you move 3 metres or more) to provide accurate location information that you can easily relate to a traditional paper map whatever the weather or terrain.
However if you know where you are and don't need continuous updates (or are getting low on battery!) then using the middle 'select' button on your Pebble you can pause location updates until you press it again (or press "Start" on the iPhone app) when the iPhone app will start gathering location data again and send it through to the Pebble.
The iOS app is pretty spartan (by design) as the idea is you won't really ever see it - it'll be safely in your backpack or pocket! However we've included a couple of shots here anyway :
On the second screen shot you can see that if for some reason the iPhone app can't send a location update to the watch then it will periodically try to reconnect. This may happen if you quit the app on the watch or start a different one (Pebble has no multi-tasking). If you restart Pebble Hike on the watch the iPhone app will automatically reconnect for you so you don't need to get it out of your bag, but at the same time we don't waste battery sending updates to something that's no longer listening!
So, what happens next? Well, we need to get in touch with the guys at Pebble to get our app "white-listed" for submission to the App Store as it communicates with an external accessory. We don't know how long this will take but will keep you updated here or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.
UPDATE : 02/07/13
We took Pebble Hike out to the Peak District last night for some field testing and it was an unqualified success!
The app was started on the iPhone (an iPhone 5) and the Pebble and off we set. A 3 hour walk starting from the top of Howden Reservoir took us up to Margery Hill and then on to a bit of moor-bashing "off piste" to test the ability of Pebble Hike to pinpoint our location on the map, and then back down and to the car.
It all worked perfectly, and after 3 hours of walking we'd used less than 20% of battery on the iPhone, and this was without any 'special measures' to extend battery life such as switching of WiFi, 3G etc and during that time we'd taken photos, replied to text messages etc as well having location updates to the watch turned on the entire time, which usually wouldn't be necessary. So a full days walking should be easily do-able!
UPDATE : 17/07/13
Pebble Hike has been submitted to Apple for approval for inclusion in the iOS App Store!
Apps that communciate with accessories take longer to be approved however we're hopeful it should be released in about 2 or 3 weeks.
UPDATE : 22/08/13
Pebble Hike has been approved by Apple and is now available on the iOS App Store! You can download it here : https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pebble-hike/id668256786?ls=1&mt=8. For fill instructions on how to set it up and to download the .pbw file look at the Pebble Hike Support Page.
If you're interested in a beta copy of the iOS app (it goes without saying that you'll need a Pebble too) then please get in touch!