Recently, an internal listing for what looks to be a Pebble synchronization app for Windows Phone was found in the Store. Pebble is one of the most prevalent and well-known smartwatches on the market, so official support for it on Windows Phone would be a big win for the platform.
Unfortunately, the evidence is mixed, at best. We'll try to explain what is going on.
Is it legit?
First off, evidence does suggest the app is capable of doing what it was designed to do. We spoke with Jeremy Sinclair, who is also known as 'Snickler' on XDA where he is a forum moderator. He looked at the APPX bundle and found the following support:
ID_CAP_SMS and ID_CAP_SMS_COMPANION with Bluetooth capabilities
Those APIs lets an app intercept SMS text messages, something that a Pebble app would need to do.
Unfortunately, those tools are not open to public developers, suggesting that whoever made this app had access to the RPAL SDK. Those tools are limited to contracted parties, OEMs and of course Microsoft, as they give deeper access to the OS as compared to what is found in the public SDK.
Because of this finding, we believe the app is a tool for syncing with a Pebble smartwatch. However…
What is this app?
An immediate conclusion some would reach is that this is a beta Pebble app of some sorts. However, we do not believe that this is the case.
What we are likely looking at is a proof-of-concept tool, possibly used in talks between Pebble and Microsoft about making an official app.
Often when companies approach Microsoft (or vice versa) about making an app, both parties tend to test the waters to see if what the client wants is technically feasible. This all happens before contracts are signed and official app development begins. For most apps, this is not a big deal. However, when apps need to do things like background syncing, accessing contacts, pulling up notifications, and more, demonstration applications are usually deployed to prove the app's capability.
Windows Phone 8.1.1 is certainly better at Bluetooth syncing, which is why we have seen an uptick in connected services for the platform e.g. Fitbit, Shine, SmartThings, Insteon, Wellograph. Still, in speaking with developers, we also know that these tools are still behind iOS and Android, often handcuffing what developers can do with the tools they are given. This reason is why we do not see some apps yet on Windows Phone, or why services like Fitbit do not have full notification support.
In this sense, it is not clear if Microsoft and Pebble went to the next stage in the development: making an actual app.
Assuming they did, we would still need to know the details about such deal, including was delivery of the app tied to Windows Phone 8.1.1 or not. Microsoft is at some crossroads with app development, as the Windows Phone 8.1.1 tools are being replaced by ones for Windows 10, enabling universal apps and greater access to APIs. It is quite reasonable to suspect that Pebble may be holding off on releasing anything until Windows 10 is more of a reality in the marketplace for PCs and phones.
Simply put we just do not know. Pebble may have seen this app and decided that it was not up to their standards, passing on the project. Then again, the app was last updated just a few days ago suggesting there is still life in the project.
We think this Store finding is indicative that Microsoft and Pebble at some point were exploring an app for Windows Phone. Sources in the past have told us that this was indeed the case. What we do not yet know is if this demo app went beyond a proof-of-concept to a more advanced stage of development.
Even if the Pebble app was contracted out for Windows Phone, it is not clear if the terms of the deal specified an 8.1 release. If not, Pebble may very well wait for Windows 10 to come along later this year.
Details about Windows 10 app development will be revealed later this spring at Build 2015. We have heard that Microsoft is finally opening up APIs to all developers, something that has not been the case in the past. Assuming this genuine, Pebble would be able to make an app without compromise, something that cannot be said of Windows Phone 8.1 app development. In other words, there is an incentive for them to wait for Windows 10 then to release a half-baked product today.
For now, we are cautiously optimistic about Pebble and Windows Phone, but we do not see this Store listing as evidence for anything fateful. Instead, Pebble users are advised to continue using third-party apps, which are much more limited.