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Pebble's app menagerie: Rounding up the best fledgling smartwatch apps

The Pebble's app library is slowing growing, but right now you'll mostly find watch faces. It's one part scavenger hunt, one part novelty shop, with a dash of practicality.

Pebblis, a Tetris clone.
Scott Stein/CNET

From the moment I first looked at the Pebble Watch, it was clear that this was a device designed to be purely about apps. Unfortunately, none were really available until a week ago, when Pebble at last released an SDK, and along with it, updated firmware for the Pebble watch and a revised smartphone app.

Now, the number of user-made indie Pebble apps is steadily growing, and there are even places to go to browse them: Pebble's own watch face community message boards, and sites like My Pebble Faces.

Remember the Palm Pilot -- those days when you'd spend weeks hunting through obscure messageboards for interesting homemade applications you'd load up and try out? The Pebble's app-loading experience feels the same way. Pebble doesn't have a formal "app store" yet, so the only way to really dip your toes into what's available is to dive into community boards where the latest experiments are posted, complete with (hopefully) descriptions, photos, and a Dropbox link.

The stock pop-up warning. Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

The cool part about Pebble app-installing is no PC is necessary, even on an iPhone: you can bring up the page with the file on your smartphone, and open it up directly into the Pebble app, which then loads it into your watch via Bluetooth. It's a seamless process, except for the fact that the Pebble can only hold eight slots for watch faces/apps at a time: you'll need to delete one before loading a new one in. Also, there's a persistent pop-up warning reminding you that these bits of software could, indeed, crash or damage your Pebble. Proceed with caution.

That being said, the current SDK is really only meant for watch face creation. That hasn't stopped intrepid folks from making apps as well, which range from crude to surprisingly useful. The Pebble doesn't have its own stopwatch or timer, but it can with a quick download. Same with a calendar, but you can't load in appointments. There are even a few games, like a Tetris knockoff that's fun in a Game & Watch sort of way.

The watch faces lurking out there are a digital-watch fetishist's dream. Some are clear fanboy creations like a "Star Trek"-themed interface; others, flat-out beautiful designs like Revolution. There are also a lot of novelty watch face, such as a holiday face that just says "4ish" or "5ish," or the grim Memento Mori, which invents a future date to count down to for your imagined death.

Being able to add these to your Pebble certainly adds to the fun, but they don't redefine the Pebble into something truly useful. At least, not yet. At best, most of these current apps amount to watch enhancements, not smartwatch applications. Health-oriented apps for running and cycling, or apps for data services like weather, aren't available yet.

One thing the new Pebble app and firmware don't seem to fix is battery life. I'm still getting just a few days between charges.

Check out some of the most interesting Pebble watch faces and apps in our slideshow, and stay tuned for a future review update of the Pebble Watch as the app library continues to mature.