As I sit here writing this article, my Pebble smartwatch is on my wrist and my mind is racing back to my time with the Galaxy Gear — and finally getting it to “work” with my Nexus 5. I love my Pebble. It’s a watch that does so much more than a standard wristwatch, and helps keep my smartphone in my pocket, rather than in and out, over and over when I check notifications. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is a different breed of smartwatch. In addition to doing most of what Pebble does, it also serves as your phone’s handset, lets you snap short videos, and more. Unfortunately, it’s only “compatible” with a select few Samsung phones and tablets (unless you’re brave enough to get it working with your Nexus 5).
That got me thinking, today’s smartwatch is going through the same evolutionary process that early phones did. When our Windows Mobile phones and Pocket PCs didn’t do something we wanted, we flashed a custom ROM on them. When we wanted our Androids to do something more (or restore something an OEM took out), we flashed a custom ROM on them.
Smartwatch custom ROMs?
Since smartwatches are just little computers with little screens and limited input methods, can’t we flash a custom ROM onto them, too? It turns out, yes, we can!
XDA Recognized Developer lilstevie is no stranger to kernel and bootloader development. Some time ago he released LittleKernel and a custom bootloader for several Sony devices. Now he’s turned his efforts to kernel development for the Galaxy Gear. He calls it the Triangulum kernel.
To the best of our knowledge, Triangulum is the Galaxy Gear’s first custom kernel, though I doubt it will be the last. In its current state, this kernel features auto-rooting, init.d support, and even unlocks the Gear’s second processor core. All in all, that’s pretty impressive, but this article isn’t about Triangulum, it’s about what it (and others like it) will enable us to do.
Once a device is “unlocked”, the floodgates are open and custom development can begin. Right now that development is likely going to be limited to tweaks and hacks — simple modifications of the ROM that’s already on the Gear. In the future, we can look forward to an entirely custom operating environment, perhaps even devoid of the “gotta have a Samsung phone” requirement.
Imagine your camera-enabled smartwatch previously crippled to 10-second video clips, running a custom ROM that enables high resolution streaming from your wrist straight to the Internet using your phone or tablet as the conduit. How about Google Hangouts or Apple’s FaceTime right from your wrist?
Your Pebble comes with a few watch faces built in. I don’t much care for them and would rather have room for others. Just like bloatware on smartphones, these stock watch faces are always there, taking up space. You can’t even hide them. A custom ROM for your Pebble could clear up that bloat and make room for even more stuff that you want.
Smartwatches with touch screens could even get customized versions of Android running on them (or another operating system), potentially replacing the PDA capabilities of your smartphone or tablet with apps running on your wrist.
I wasn’t that impressed by the Gear when I saw the Pocketnow team go hands-on with it. I already owned a Pebble and was quite happy with it. Then I received the Gear with the challenge of getting it to work with my Nexus 5. There are a few things I don’t like about the Gear, but my initial impressions were 180-degrees off! The device is stylish, it’s not too big, its screen is bright and beautiful, and the goiter that is the camera isn’t all that bad.
The Galaxy Gear is leading the pack right now in overall “hackability”. To the best of our knowledge, there are no custom kernels for Pebble — not yet. As such, you should expect to see fun things coming to the Galaxy Gear before any of the other smartwatches out there, and that’s okay by us!
I wouldn’t expect a build of CyanogenMod running on the Galaxy Gear any time soon, but be prepared for tweaks, optimizations, and a whole slew of customization to come your way soon — very soon.
What about you?
Do you have a smartwatch now? Which one? What would you like to be able to do with a smartwatch running a custom ROM? Do you think we’ll ever see CyanogenMod, Paranoid Android, AOKP, or your favorite custom ROM running on your wrist? Head down to the comments and let us know what you think!