Despite the now ubiquitous Android Wear smartwatches and Apple Watch timepieces, Pebble still has a strong and loyal following, thanks to its simplicity, battery life, and being so far one of the few truly cross-platform smartwatches in the market. Simplicity, however, sometimes has a price to pay, like in the form of features that are also becoming more prevalent on more mainstream smartwatches. Like contactless mobile payment systems. Pagare, however, has found a way around that, to deliver the same convenience as Android Pay or Apple Pay on Pebble Time, without having to swap out smartwatches.
Before there was Apple Watch or Android Wear, there was Pebble. While more recent smartwatches lavished sophisticated, touch-driven features on their faces, Pebble had an enticing counter-proposition: a battery-saving e-paper display controlled by physical buttons. It was simplicity at its finest, a trait that allowed it be compatible with both Android and iOS mobile devices, something very few smartwatches, not even Samsung’s Gear line, can boast about.
Pebble, however, eventually ran into the problem of any simple product: scalability. In March last year, it revealed its solution: smartstraps. Instead of burdening the Pebble smartwatch itself with new hardware, those could be offloaded to the strap, allowing the simple smartwatch’s functionality to be expanded without bloating it up. Later in November, Fit Pay announced the Pagare strap that does exactly that, adding the convenience of mobile payments to the Pebble Time family.
Pagare does a few unique things you won’t find in most mobile payment incarnations in smartwatches. For one, it is mostly independent of a smartphone. After the payment cards have been set up, you can pay with your Pebble any time anywhere, even if you left the phone at home. Juggling through cards is done with the Pebble’s buttons. The smartphone app is only used to manage the cards themselves, not for actually making a payment.
One other unique feature is the strap itself, that works both for security and power. The secure element chip is located underneath the watch while a flexible PCB runs through the length of the strap. When the PCB makes a complete circuit by connecting the ends of the strap together, Pagare will activate and then ask for a PIN code to authenticate the user. In other words, it can only be used if worn on the user’s wrist and after validating the PIN code. The strap also doubles as a charger for the Pebble itself, as one of the strap ends is actually a USB plug.
Sounds good? Of course there are a few gotchas. For one, Pagare is only compatible with the newer Pebble Time, Pebble Time Steel, and Pebble Time Round, as these are the only ones supporting the smartstrap feature. But most importantly, it’s still on a Kickstarer campaign phase, though they are nearing half of their $120,000 goal. Certification with payment systems, however, is still in the process. If all goes well, it will ship in July and, if the certification pushes through, can be used in dozens of establishments, like McDonald’s, Macy’s, Toys’R’Us, Staples, and more.