Pebble’s done a clever job of working around some of the security limitations imposed by iOS — you can view notifications, control music playback, and answer phone calls, for example — but one restriction that’s dogged it for years is texting. A new Pebble feature in beta, Text Reply, may finally deliver that functionality to some watch owners, but with a gargantuan catch: You’ll need AT&T service.
Text Reply doesn’t seem all that complicated on the surface. From a user’s perspective, it works much the same way as Pebble’s text messaging feature on Android: You can reply with voice or a number of predefined responses. But the unusual carrier prerequisite, the Pebble team explained in a blog post, is due to the MacGyvered way Text Reply works: Instead of routing text message replies through a paired iPhone, integration exclusive to Apple’s own Apple Watch, the feature relies on an Internet-connected AT&T server to deliver messages to the intended recipient.
Even if you do have AT&T, Text Reply isn’t perfect. It doesn’t work with group messages, replies sent from the Pebble watch to iMessage texts are sent as SMS messages rather than iMessages, and texts won’t appear in the messaging app on the iPhone. Pebble says it’s working with AT&T and other carriers to improve compatibility.
The launch of Text Reply comes as competition in the smartwatch market heats up. Huawei, LG, and Motorola have debuted new Android Wear watches in the past few months. HP announced partnerships with fashion brands Titan and Movado this year. And in recent months, Swiss timepieces companies TAG Heurer and Creor have launched smartwatches of their own. Pebble hasn’t taken the competition sitting down — it launched the ultra-thin Pebble Time Round in November — but it remains to be seen how it’ll fare against the encroaching crowd.
Pebble says Text Reply’s compatible with Pebble Time, Time Steel, and Time Round models running firmware version 3.7 or higher.