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.
by Adam Skikne
Tech experts have predicted that smart watches are going to be the breakout product categories of 2014. The first smart watches are now available to consumers with the next generation being shown off at CES 2014. But what is it like to use a smart watch, what should they do and should you buy one? I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the Sony SmartWatch 2 to review.
Design and Hardware:
The design of the Sony SmartWatch 2 is quite impressive. With its square face, rounded corners and chamfered edges, the Sony SmartWatch 2 is a sleek device with a premium feel. It was definitely noticed when it was on my wrist and the majority of people who saw it became quite curious when they found out that it was a smart watch. So basically you can safely wear it in public without worrying if you look like an idiot.
Perhaps the most important feature of the SmartWatch 2 is its screen. And while the screen is bigger and brighter than the one found in the original Sony SmartWatch, I did wish it had a slightly higher resolution. Despite this, the SmartWatch 2’s screen is usable in most lighting conditions (including outdoors in bright sunlight) and manages to always stay on while conserving battery.
Battery life on the SmartWatch 2 is another plus. When I first unboxed the SmartWatch 2, its battery was about 65% full but still lasted me a good three days before needing to be recharged. The SmartWatch 2 charges via a micro USB cable which is quite convenient. It should be noted that the SmartWatch 2 is also water resistant. So if you ever wanted to check Twitter while you’re in the shower, this is the device for you.
Setting up the SmartWatch 2 is relatively simple as it pairs with any Android phone running Jellybean and above through NFC or Bluetooth. Unfortunately the Smart Watch 2 is not compatible with iOS devices. Once the devices have been paired, you are prompted to download the Sony Smart Connect app on your phone. The app allows you to find, link and control a number of other apps that have been specifically designed for the SmartWatch 2.
Through the Smart Connect app, the SmartWatch 2 can be linked to your phonebook, dialer, music player, SMS messages, Twitter, Facebook and various fitness apps like Endomondo and Runtastic. There are roughly 300 additional apps that you can be downloaded for the SmartWatch 2. The majority of these apps are lightweight and free but there are a few apps that offer very similar functionality. Still, these apps add additional functionality to the SmartWatch 2.
Using the SmartWatch 2:
The experience of using the SmartWatch 2 will vary based on your expectations of what a smart watch should do. Smart watches are set to become an increasingly important product category in the next few years but it is still a product category that needs to be better defined by device manufacturers.
The interface of the SmartWatch 2 should be familiar to anyone who has used an Android phone. You can swipe through installed apps and the SmartWatch 2 even has the standard back, home and options buttons found on most Android devices.
The SmartWatch 2 primarily acts as second screen that allows you to view notifications on your wrist and perform basic tasks like controlling your music without the need for taking your smartphone out of your pocket. The notifications that pop up on your wrist can make it easier to spend less time looking at your phone, which is good. However, it’s very easy to become inundated with notifications depending on which services you link with the SmartWatch 2. Messages and social media updates can be problematic but the settings for these apps can also be tweaked to improve the experience.
There are a few snags. The SmartWatch 2 does well with text based notifications but struggles with updates or emails that are image heavy. Your wrist will ring when you get a phone call but you can’t answer the call or speak into the watch. These are not faults per se but maybe just missed opportunities. I have no doubt that these features and capabilities will be included in either future iterations of the Sony SmartWatch. You can already find them in competing products like the Samsung Galaxy Gear but at a slightly higher price point.
The smart watch is a product category that currently doesn’t have mainstream appeal but this is will likely change over the next year or so. If you are an early adopter or love the idea of smart watches, then the Sony SmartWatch 2 is a definite contender. It is well designed, compatible with a wide range of Android phones and is supported by a number of specially designed third party apps.
On the spectrum of available smart watches that are currently available, I would say that the SmartWatch 2 fits in between the Pebble and the Samsung Galaxy Gear in terms of price, battery life, device compatibility, build quality and apps. If you are in the market for a smartwatch, I would recommend that you look into these three products and see which one suits you best based on your individual needs.
Final Score: 6.5 out of 10
I got my Sony SmartWatch 2 review unit from the fine folk at the Orange Online store. They stock the Sony SmartWatch 2 (available from R1995.00) as well as the Pebble Smartwatch and the Samsung Galaxy Gear. If you enjoyed the review or are in the market for a smart watch, feel free to visit them at http://store.orange.com/za/p_orange_home.aspx