Android Wear: A Platform for Wearable Devices
by Adam Skikne
2014 is the year of the wearable. Everyone is talking about wearables and every device manufacturer is trying to sell you one. But what should a wearable do? And do we even need them?
These are they types of questions that have floated around the world of tech as we all wait for a company like Google or Apple to step forward and connect the dots for all other consumer electronics companies, showing them the way forward. Well a few weeks ago, Google unveiled a preview of Android Wear, a modified version of Android designed specifically for wearables. The good news: the dots have been connected beautifully. The bad news, at least for Apple, is that Android Wear might have just solved everything wrong with wearable devices.
Here are 5 reasons why Android Wear has positioned itself perfectly to win the war for being the dominant platform for wearable devices:
Creating a usable UI has been a major problem that smartwatch manufacturers have been trying to solve over the past few years. Most smartwatch manufacturers have made the mistake of trying to shrink down the UI that’s already on your smartphone and just put it on your wrist. This has led to terrible experiences as most smartwatches are not as powerful as modern smartphones and have much smaller screens
Android Wear is powered by Google Now, Google’s contextually aware, card based system. Google has implemented a similar card-based system for Google Glass and it has been praised as an ideal UI for wearables, showcasing that it can work across a number of different form factors. This card-based approach to UI offers the perfect balance between information and interaction, reminding us why the wearable category so compelling.
The other side of including Google Now into Android Wear is context. The promise of wearable devices is the added value that can be created “in the moment” through contextual data. These devices will need to know things like has there been a traffic accident on the way to work? Has my flight been delayed? Am I missing the rugby to take my girlfriend out for our anniversary but still want to know what’s happening in the game?
All of this requires contextual data and no one is doing a better job at collecting and interpreting this data than Google. And while Android is free, Google Now is proprietary software. This means that if you are a wearable device manufacturer and you want context baked into your device, you pretty much need to jump on the Android Wear bandwagon. This is something that should be worrying Apple as they can’t compete with Google in this particular area.
If your wearable device has a screen, it will most likely be tiny. Which is fine if all you want your wearable device to do is just give you your latest notifications…but who wants that? That sounds lame. Of course you want to get these super cool contextual updates but you also want to do do something with them without taking out your smartphone.
Android Wear includes all the great work that Google has done with voice controls in Android over the past few years. One of Google’s goals is to create the Star Trek computer, a computer that can be controlled using natural language. It sounds incredibly geeky, but if Google can make talking to our computers seem normal, it will be a huge factor in ensuring wearables have mass market appeal.
Android has an incredible amount of momentum behind it with over a billion Android smartphones and tablets being activated around the world in the past 8 years. Android is the most popular mobile OS in the world today and one of the reasons for all of this success is that it is open.
According to Business Insider’s recent report on the Internet of Things, the number of devices that will make up the internet of things is going to far exceed the number of both smartphones and tablets in the world. Judging from the recent smartphone and tablet wars, open systems will trump closed systems. If you want to build a world where everything can talk to everything, regardless of specs, screen size or manufacturer, Android seems to be the smart platform to use and Android Wear is going to be the thing that makes sure everything can keep on talking.
One of Android’s key selling points over iOS has been cusomisation. But moving forward, we won’t be worried about customising our phone’s wallpapers or widgets. Every part of our lives and all the devices in them will be fully customisable. Starting with what kind of wearible you want and what you actually want it to do.
You want a smartwatch? A fitness tracker? A sleep tracker? A smart thermostat? A mask that measures air quality? Glasses that take videos? Hats that broadcast free wi-fi? A toothbrush that automatically books an appointment with your dentist? Whatever you can think of, someone will build it. And if I’m right about openness and custimisation, people will probably be building it on something like Android Wear.