Today Google threw its hat into the wearables ring and announced Android Wear. Android Wear is a version of Android specifically designed for wearables, and the first category of devices that will run Android Wear will be smartwatches. Taking inspiration from Google Now, Google highlighted four areas on which Android Wear will focus:
- “Useful information when you need it most.” Just like Google Now on Android phones and tablets, Android Wear devices will use cards to display all types of information – like weather, traffic, transit, scores, appointments, emails, nearby movies and restaurants – based on what Google knows about your location, schedule, interests, and more, as well as integrating social media and communication apps.
- “Straight answers to spoken questions.” Also similar to the voice search functions on Android phones and tablets, Android Wear will allow the user to say “OK Google” and ask their device for information, like a weather forecast or nearby restaurants, or to do something, like text a friend that you are running late or set a reminder.
- “The ability to better monitor your health and fitness.” Android Wear can be used to exercise and give statistics, like speed and distance traveled, while running or biking.
- “Your key to a multiscreen world.” Android Wear lets the user communicate with other devices and do things like control music on a smartphone and play a movie on Chromecast.
Android Wear will automatically display notifications from apps on a connected device on the Android Wear device. Today Google released a Developer Preview API (Application Programming Interface) that will allow app developers to customize the way their notifications appear on Android Wear devices, such as allowing a user to reply to a message by voice rather than by opening the messaging app, adding additional pages to a notification to let the user access more information relating to that notification (for example what to bring to a meeting or directions to a meeting), and stacking multiple notifications from the same app (to show, for example, individual messages rather than “3 messages”).
“Later this year” Google will release an Android Wear SDK (Software Development Kit) that will let developers more fully customize the Android Wear experience. Between now and the SDK Google may give developers more APIs to work with.
In Google’s announcement, it said that it is “already working with several consumer electronics manufacturers, including Asus, HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung; chip makers Broadcom, Imagination, Intel, Mediatek and Qualcomm; and fashion brands like the Fossil Group to bring you watches powered by Android Wear later this year.” And within hours, LG and Motorola each announced Android Wear smartwatches.
Motorola’s Moto 360 Watch is modeled after a classic round analog watch with a single crown. It actually looks really nice in an understated way. It will be available in the US this summer. No word on pricing.
LG’s G Watch is square and modern-looking, and that’s about all I can say about it without a press release. It is expected to be priced to sell and released next quarter.
The Verge has a great collection of Android Wear photos that show off the OS as well as these two devices.
I have been pretty critical of smartwatches in the past. And I still am, to a degree, but I also think Android Wear, and in particular the Moto 360, looks pretty awesome. I am constantly taking my phone out of my pocket to check messages, change a song, or look up train times, and being able to just look at my wrist would be pretty cool. And while maybe a few years ago it seemed over-the-top to have to always be connected the way a smartwatch would make possible, nowadays being always connected seems much more natural.
I currently wear an automatic mechanical watch, and the technology behind an automatic movement is pretty amazing, and it’s pretty cool to wear a technology with so much history. But that coolness is really hard to quantify since it extends so far beyond practicality. Smartwatch technology, on the other hand, is so new and if smartphone technology is any indication, the technology used in today’s smartwatches will be obsolete in a year. But if I have no qualms getting a phone that will last two years tops before I happily replace it with something else, why wouldn’t I be ok doing the same thing with a smartwatch? I guess there is just something cool and timeless about an automatic watch.
Regardless, comparing smartwatches to automatic watches is really an unfair comparison because they are in different price ranges. For the average consumer who wants a watch that tells time and date and looks nice, if priced right I could see them opting for a smartwatch. And for many tech fans I think a smartwatch will be a no brainer.
Now that it seems smartwatches are only going to get more popular, the question is whether Android Wear watches will be a market leader. There are already several smartwatches on the market, including a few models by Pebble, which had a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, which received lackluster reviews and has since been replaced by a Tizen-powered Gear 2. Apple is also long-rumoured to be working on an iWatch, which is expected to be released in late 2014. So far no smartwatch has really made it mainstream the way smartphones have, but I think Android Wear watches will: the interface looks really nice, Google has the data and software to create a new experience that is more than just a way to control a smartphone, many proven product manufacturers have signed on, Android already has a solid market presence, and the Android development community is really strong. The big questions I have are whether Android Wear will be compatible with iOS and/or free-standing or whether it will only be able to be used as an accessory to an Android phone, and also how many consumers will be willing to add a fourth gadget (after a smartphone, tablet, and laptop). But from what I’ve seen, if these watches are priced right I think they’ll sell very well.
For more reading, check out Google’s blog post.