Developing for Pebble using Docker

Published: 9 May, 2019
Tags: pebble, docker

A while ago I’ve come up with an idea for a watch. I thought it would benefit from custom hardware, but what I really wanted to do is to quickly make a working prototype and validate it. I looked around for hardware that would be easy to code for and have all the functions I needed and quickly settled on the Pebble watch. I found a couple (well, my very generous colleague donated them to me) and started looking into how to get the toolchain working and put my ideas to test.

Connecting to the Pebble

The main Pebble developer support site that comes up now is called Pebble Developers. You can find a lot of helpful content there including how to get the SDK set up and running. I tried following it on my Mac, but just couldn’t get it working. Now, this is exactly the kind of problem that Docker should be able to solve for me! I went looking for an image that would have the Pebble SDK and found andredumas/pebble-deb.

The next thing I had to do was find a way to connect the Pebble to my Mac. I’d assumed (wrongly) that the USB cable used to charge it would serve that purpose, but the way to send programs to the watch is via Bluetooth. Reading the pebble cli tool documentation reveals that you need to either connect the Pebble directly to your Mac using Bluetooth at which point it should appear as a device inside /dev/ or you can use Developer Connection available through the Android and iOS apps.

I personally would’ve preferred the former approach as I don’t enjoy faffing about with phone apps when developing, but since I couldn’t get the SDK working on my machine and the Docker is running in a VM (so I couldn’t easily pass the device into the container) I ended up going down the app route. Be warned - the app is now discontinued and has been removed from the app store, so now you have to download it from APKMirror. Not sure what exactly you need to do to get it working with an iPhone, but if you email me I’ll be glad to add instructions for it to this article (or link to yours).

Once you download the app to your phone you can install it from the APK file. Launch the app, skip the login and you should have the app working. Next you need to connect your pebble - click on the refresh icon in the top-right corner, select the kind of Pebble you have and click on your device in the list. You then have to go through the Bluetooth pairing procedure after which the app might decide your watch needs an update. Once that’s done and you have connected your Pebble to the app you’ll need to follow the directions for turning on Developer Connection.

Building and installing an app

Now that the Developer connection is on let’s take an example app and install it on the watch. A nice example is the simple-analog watchface. To clone it run

git clone https://github.com/pebble-examples/simple-analog.git

Enter the project folder, then build the app:

docker run --rm -it -v $PWD:/pebble andredumas/pebble-dev build

If all went well (I get some Python errors, but the build still gets completed) take the IP shown in Developer Connection and install the app on your Pebble:

docker run --rm -it -v $PWD:/pebble andredumas/pebble-dev install --phone=192.168.0.1

This will install the watchface on your Pebble and it should become the current watchface. You can follow exactly the same process to build and install apps.

Alternative connection options

I have to admit that I don’t love having to download and install an app from a mirror just to use the phone as a WiFi-Bluetooth bridge. I tried setting up a Bluetooth serial connection to the Pebble from a Linux machine (hoping I can use the --device option to docker run to pass it through to the container), but it just kept disconnecting and I gave up. If you know how to get it working - please let me know!