To me, the most interesting part about the Pebble smartwatch is the connector
Many months after it was scheduled to ship, the Pebble smartwatch is now actually shipping, and reviews have started to pop up. Most of the reviews seem rather lukewarm, putting the Pebble somehwere in the “oddity with potential” category. To me, the Pebble is frankly a snooze fest; I’d want something like that for being able to tie it to my own Tasker creations, and right now it’s more or less a one size fits all sort of product, which I have no use for. One part of the Pebble does however interest me: The charging connector.
Whereas microUSB is a common sight on devices as small as the Pebble, Pebble actually has its own proprietary connector. It’s a mix between a pogo pin connector and a magnetic connector, using two magnets on the side of a pogo pin connector to provide charging. You can see how this looks in the two images below, both from Engadget’s review of the Pebble.
To me, this connector design is frankly more interesting than the watch itself. Magnetic connectors is something I’ve talked a lot about in the past, and I’ve made both concept drawings and actual prototypes of such connectors. I think a magnetic connection is better than a wireless one, since it gives you the same benefits that a truly wired connection does, with few of the downsides. Wireless charging is slow, wireless data transfer is slow. Having a magnetic connector lets you quickly attach a cable or dock the device, and you can just remove it without having to unplug anything. There’s no plug to break off or connector to damage, and it’s better suited for certain types of accessories, like cradles and car docks.
Unfortunately magnetic connectors aren’t very common, being mostly limited to Apple’s MagSafe connector and the odd other device that uses one. It’s therefore a delight to see a product come out that has one, in this case the Pebble. I know many people probably wish the thing came with a microUSB port instead, but a magnetic connector makes a lot of sense on something like the Pebble. First off, water proofing a magnetic connector is a lot easier than water proofing something like a microUSB port, especially on a smaller device. Second, it allows you to actually attach the charging cable while wearing the watch, without risking to break something if you accidentally pull on the entire setup.
Finally, having a proprietary charging-only cable like this means you can have larger individual pins compared to something designed for data transfer as well, which again means that the connector is less fragile. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t see an angled microUSB connector that sticks out as little as this one, because the internal workings of a microUSB connector is an exercise in spreading out tiny pins in order to connect wires to them, which actually takes up an ironic amount of space considering the connector is so small.
I doubt the Pebble’s magnetic connector will make any other companies jump on it, but at least it’s good to see that such connectors are still being used. I’m only semi-interested in wireless charging, NFC, and similar technologies, but I would really welcome a new connector standard that was magnetic.