The week of September 14, 2014

Me IRL: Myriam Joire

By Taylor Hatmaker

Myriam Joire swipes and taps through more smartphones in a given day than most people have owned in the last decade. The quintessential early adopter, Joire, equally well known through the online alias “tnkgrl,” describes that she was “born wearing combat boots and holding a keyboard; moments later I picked up a soldering iron”—and we believe it.

A former programmer for gaming giants like Relic, EA, Activision, and Sony, Joire built her online geek cred through tnkgrl Mobile, a gadget blog that she founded back in 2006. (Remarkably, fueled by Joire’s deep enthusiasm for consumer tech, it’s still kicking eight years later.) She went on to make a home at Engadget as the site’s senior mobile editor before recently hopping over to join the team at Pebble, the Kickstarted smartwatch that in part inspired a brand new, white-hot category for mobile.

“Our phones are very personal but we can hide them in our pockets… People can’t identify us walking down the street by what we have in our pocket.”

Joire, a longtime Burning Man regular who identifies as queer, is an alt-geek style icon, sporting a mohawk, full-sleeve tattoos, a massive lens on her camera du jour, cargo pants, a hoodie—and yes, usually combat boots.

As Pebble’s chief evangelist, Joire knows mobile better than just about everybody. As tnkgrl, she loves phones, phablets, and smartwatches more than anyone. There’s no contest.

How many mobile devices are you carrying right now?

I usually carry four. It’s more about having full pockets in my cargo pants. It’s about what devices I want to play with… I try to have iOS, Windows Phone, and some sort of other Android device. I guess five if you count my Pebble! They change all the time and I usually carry a couple more in my bag.

So right now it’s the [Amazon] Fire Phone, [Nokia] Lumia 930, Nexus 5, and the [LG] G3. Not just any G3—the Korean one, which is the one with more RAM and all that good stuff. It’s kind of disconcerting when I’m wearing something else like a dress or a pair of pants with two pockets because then I really have to be selective.

What makes designing a wearable different?

It’s about style, it’s about personalization and customization, about making something that’s very personable to people. Our phones are very personal but we can hide them in our pockets… People can’t identify us walking down the street by what we have in our pocket. Whereas I think a watch or glasses or clothes or shoes are these kinds of things where you really need to be 100 percent happy with the way it looks.

“Every time someone announces a smartwatch, we sell more watches.”

What will happen to fitness trackers?

I think of them now as the dumb phones of the wearable world. They’re a commodity, you can get one for free from Walgreens if you’re willing to share your data with them… Eventually I expect you’ll be able to find them in blister packs at 7-11 if you really want to monitor your health and fitness in a very basic way.

I think that there are right now a lot of custom devices that help people with health issues take control of their lives that are cumbersome and have terrible user experiences. And if we can maybe take some of these blood glucose monitoring things and put them in a device with Apple’s cache of user experience…

What’s the hardest thing about making a smartwatch?

I really think battery life is one of them. Battery life, is the screen readable in daylight… there are a number of challenges. [Style] is the other one. But at the same time you want it to be useful, you want this device to immediately become, “Oh I can’t live without it.” And that’s the experience we’ve been able to create with Pebble in some ways. A lot of people give us the feedback that it sticks. They use it for a while and they realize that notifications on your wrist are actually a pretty awesome thing.

Is Apple’s move good or bad for Pebble?

Every time someone announces a smartwatch, we sell more watches. I think Apple is going to be the first to show that you can sell millions of these things. I’m hoping we can learn some stuff from them, and I’m hoping they make a few mistakes too. I’m hoping that they don’t get the battery life quite right—and the one thing they’re not going to get for sure is cross-platform support.

“I want to believe in the cyborg future!”

I think that Apple is going to really put it in the forefront of people’s minds. The people right now who have not heard of wearables are more likely to hear about wearables. And of course the pipe dream of unifying the payment world like they did with the music world…

Beyond Apple and Pebble, who gets it?

I think Motorola gets it. They’ve shown that they understand what I think is critical in smartwatches. Even though it’s not perfect, it’s big, it’s arguably not everybody’s style. Who’s not getting it right is Samsung. The [Galaxy] Gear S is cool, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think that’s where we’re headed.

You mentioned Glass. What are your Glass feelings these days?

Oh god. I haven’t used mine in months! Honestly, I’ve been kind of exasperated with Glass, and I feel bad because on one hand I really—I’m like you—I believe in it. I really think that there’s something there and I think that it has its purpose. However, I also spent $1,500 on it and I’m not using it.

At the same time it’s like a secret, like a [problem] child I still love. I have very mixed feelings about Glass. I want to believe in the cyborg future!

Where does Pebble fit in?

Just like we said with Google Wear, we welcome Apple. “This is awesome, thanks for validating what we’ve been doing and popularizing it.” We’ll learn from them, they’ll learn from us. I just think it’s exciting because whatever they do, it’s going to benefit everyone. It’s going to benefit Samsung, Motorola, and Google, Android Wear—they’re going to learn some stuff from that.

I do think there’s going to be an undercurrent of really democratizing wearables by having Apple [make] one. I think it’s going to make it more competitive for everyone. We’re all going to be able to really bring our best game.

Illustration by J. Longo