7 greatest challenges facing Android Wear

August 20, 2014

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The wearable device market has so far been growing slowly, and most consumers are generally not interested in devices like the Pebble or even the Gear family. Driven by Google Now and backed by Google, Android Wear and the devices it runs on could attract more consumers to the market, but the platform still faces a very difficult road ahead of it.

Even though there are uses for Android Wear smartwatches like the LG G Watch, it is hard to convince consumers that an expensive wearable is worth the cost when it does relatively little. With that in mind, let’s jump in and look at the seven greatest challenges facing Android Wear right now.

It doesn’t do enough

Outside of performing a few tricks and acting as a wearable notification center, there isn’t a whole lot that an Android Wear device can do. It is easy to see why paying hundreds for a smartphone makes sense, but Android Wear is only¬†capable of¬†working with a bunch of shrunken down, minimalist applications.

Instead of Twitter, people can use Bunting, and the same goes for Flappy Bird which appears on Android Wear as Flopsy Droid. Most of these early applications aren’t particularly useful, and even though they are great to have easy access to, the barrier of entry to gain access to them is remarkably high.

Just as Google Glass could one day take off because it offers real augmented reality, Android Wear devices have the potential to become just as prevalent as smartphones and tablets. Since we are just now seeing Android Wear devices make their way to the market, however, there are only a few uses for the devices.

samsung gear live unboxing aa (14 of 15)

The high cost of wearables

There’s no getting around the fact that wearables running Android Wear are expensive. So far only two watches have been released, the LG G Watch and the Gear Live. The G Watch is priced at $230 and the Live is $200, both are more than the average person spends on a phone with a two-year contract.

There is nothing wrong with a $200 – $230 device if it can actually provide something worthwhile to users, but in the case of current Android Wear devices, almost nothing is provided that¬†the average consumer can’t live without.

People have already decided

It is never easy for a company to sell its products to consumers and that is even more true when consumers have a strong opinion about a product they’ve never used. A¬†late 2013 poll from Harris Interactive on the topic of wearables was conducted to see how people feel about smartwatches and Google Glass. Overwhelmingly people were not interested in Glass, and the same was true for nearly half of the respondents in the case of smartwatches. Specifically, Harris found that around 46 percent of people simply are not interested in owning a smartwatch.

The people know what they want, and it's not Android Wear.

That means companies planning to come out with Android Wear devices are facing an uphill battle in which a vast number of consumers have already made up their mind about the product category.

moto 360 first look (9 of 12)

Wear devices aren’t that stylish

It’s hard to look at a device like the LG G Watch and feel as though you would love to be walking around wearing it like a¬†watch. Android Wear smartwatches have so far been bulky, and while they are¬†functional as a notification companion, they are not stylish. For decades watches have been both functional and stylish items, but at least for the time being, it doesn’t appear Android Wear device manufacturers are able to combine those two things.

Motorola is at least attempting to bring some style to the Android Wear market with the Moto 360, but even it is clearly not the same as a nice looking traditional watch.

Few consumers have any interest in purchasing a device that costs hundreds of dollars just to be unhappy with the way it looks. For the most part, Google Glass is far more capable than an Android Wear wearable, yet it has a slim chance of catching on because no one wants to walk around in a public place wearing it. To a lesser extent, Android Wear devices are faced with the same problem.

Wearable battery life is dreadful

Battery life has been an area in need of improvement for smartphones for well over five years, and the same can be expected from the wearable market as it begins to grow. Current and upcoming Android Wear devices are able to function for around two days. This would be great with a device such as a smartphone, but one benefit of using a smartwatch is that it can track sleep information during the night. Unfortunately, if the battery is about to die, there is no way to track that information all the time.

Smartwatches cannot realize their full potential when they need to be charged every other day.

This puts consumers in a strange position. Even though Android Wear brings with it some amazing features connected to health and fitness, those features need to be given up every few days so the device can be charged. Once again, this would not be an issue if Android Wear wearables were targeted at just one set of tasks, but since the devices attempt to help people throughout their day, it is not possible to really take advantage of the wearable to the fullest.

Voice is too often required

Interacting with an Android Wear device with swipes and taps is entirely possible, but more advanced features do require voice commands. The only possible workaround for this would be¬†to use a keyboard application on the wearable, but it’s hard to picture many people typing on a display the size of their wrist. With this in mind, people need to be comfortable speaking to their wrist throughout the day, and most¬†people will probably have an issue with that.

Google advertises some of the main Wear features by saying people can “respond to texts, instant messages, and emails by voice.” Even though having that ability is great, it doesn’t matter if you do not want to be the person walking around a mall talking to their wrist.¬†

If people attempt to minimize the number of times they use voice to interact with an Android Wear wearable, they are essentially left with an expensive device that is limited to showing them notifications and not much else.

Best Android Accessory LG Lifeband CES 2014 Android Authority-7

Fitness wearables make more sense

In the current wearable market, the only devices that truly make sense and have attracted consumers are fitness wearables. With a fitness wearable, battery life is improved and the device is capable of doing just a few things very well instead of many things in a less than satisfactory way. In reality, Android Wear smartwatches are not capable of very much outside of displaying notifications and taking voice input, so less expensive fitness wearables may easily stay ahead of Android Wear devices for the time being.

Take the UP24, for example. The Up24 is a stylish and functional fitness wearable capable of lasting seven days on a single charge and can therefore be worn all day long for days at a time. Without a person even interacting with the device, the Up24 can capture all of the information that it needs to, and it does so for $150, compared to Android Wear devices that cost $200 to $250.

Android Wear as a platform clearly has the ability to become more functional as time moves on, but fitness wearables already have a clear place in people’s lives¬†while Android Wear smartwatches do not.

Light at the end of the tunnel

While Android Wear clearly has tough times ahead of it, there is light at the end of the tunnel. More app developers are throwing in support for Android Wear with each passing day and we are already starting to see some potentially cool use cases like utilizing Wear for controlling a smart home.¬†There’s also more useful apps starting to add support, like Whatsapp and the Wear Audio Recorder.¬†

No one expects a generation-one product to be perfect, but at least Android Wear seems to be opening doors that other smartwatches haven’t (or at least haven’t successfully). As time passes, Google and its partners could potentially climb past these hurdles to deliver more attractive products with better battery life and more useful out-of-box functionality, it’s just a matter of time.

In the meantime, do you feel Android Wear products are worth buying at this stage, or are you better off with more established wearable solutions, like fitness trackers?

Comments

  • Fabian Taveras

    My biggest problem with Android wear has already been stated and that’s price. There is no reason why a device which is practically an add on with barely any functionality should cost over 100$ in my opinion android wear should cost at most 50$. At that price point you would start gaining interest quick. Far faster then the 250$ method.

    • Flip Jumpman

      I don’t know what kind of watch you wear (if one) but saying a smartwatch should cost $50 bucks is unbelievable.
      Do people even bother wearing a $50 dollar regular watch? A decent regular watch cost on average $80-$120 and then you have high quality one’s costing in the thousands…

      • Fabian Taveras

        No I currently don’t wear a watch but dude if we’re going to talk about a watch that’s on average (for the moment) going to give merely a couple days of battery life then I don’t think it should be priced anywhere near 200$. especially knowing that android wear is just an add on not really a must have. My reasoning for why I believe it should have this low price is to simply build interest and over time as android wear gets better the price will obviously increase. Because at the moment paying over a smart watch that costs more then a moto E is overkill especially For something that doesn’t do much but potential overtime just add on to the Android experience just seems way too pricy.

        • Flip Jumpman

          I respect your reasons. Maybe in the near future they’ll appeal to you more. For me, as someone that likes to wear all types of watches I think wearables is off to a good start and hopefully battery technology really makes some advancements…
          I don’t expect all that much from smartwatche’s currently but it’s great for simply glance notifications. Just the amount my smartwatch has stopped me from pulling out and constantly looking at my phone is a big plus. As for charging, I charge it every day when I get up and shower and last me the entire day. Charging is very quick!

      • theonlywoody

        If you go to a watch store to buy a replacement band it costs around $50 let alone a whole watch, let alone one with this much tech inside.

  • abazigal

    I think the main issue is the cool factor. People don’t think they need one, just like how no one thought they needed a smartphone prior to the iphone. I have friends who think nothing of splurging $10k on a watch they hardly wear, but won’t get a smartwatch ever simply because they “don’t see the point”.

    You are going to need the brand power of a company like Nike or even Apple to really sell the concept of wearables and make it take off, IMO. Else, I see them being little more than a gimmick for a more tech-savvy (and small) market.

  • Foosa Noble

    I have had my gear live for a week and remain unimpressed. I like my pebble much more and the only reason I haven’t returned the gear live is the hope that an android wear update can solve some of the issues this article had mentioned. In google I have faith.. If were up to the OEM’s it would of went right back to best buy.

  • Adrian Le Coyte

    For me I was a little disappointed by this article. I thought that it would be insightful. It started off well, however I expected it to propose some pointers and wishes that Android Wear could overcome. I do agree that these are the challenges that Android faces.
    “It doesn’t do enough” – I expected a list of things that it should do.
    “The high cost of wearables” – I imagine that not all Android Authority chaps wear $18 Casio watches. Do you know how much a half decent Nixon or a Fossil costs (just a dumb watch) ? The early adopters always bear the greater cost.
    “People have already decided” – are there any statistics for the number of people who ‘did not need a smartwatch’ until they tried one? Remember this is a curve, adoption is virtually guaranteed once the need is established. I argue that the need is clear. (Just ‘watch’ the number of times in a meeting people check their phones for notifications – just a simple example off the top of my head… a car dealership, the sales manager is ENGAGED in a meeting, a sales person need authorization for a deal…buzz buzz… ‘can you break from you meeting to approve…YES/NO’ – over simplistic – maybe, but the possibilities are enormous)
    “Wear devices aren‚Äôt that stylish” – nor are many decent Nixons and Fossils.
    “Wearable battery life is dreadful” – my wind-up watch requires me to wind it every other day. Regardless though, this does not mean that production should be halted until a solution is found. A day is enough. Granted barely though.
    “Voice is too often required” – so what do you want, more voice interaction or less ?

    I own a pebble watch. It is great. As a wearer, the possibilities of a smartwatch expand all is the time. It is a invaluable item; the most important feature is that it releases me looking at and listening (for notifications) twenty times an hour.

    I think that you could have gone further and deeper with this article. A Moto360 has my name on it.

    • theonlywoody

      Agree. I have a Gear Live and its great for what i need. Very convenient to check notifications on my wrist and see if i need to respond immediately or if i can leave it until later to get my phone out and respond, especially when I’m busy at work. To be honest I think the Samsung watch goes a good way for a for a generation one device in termes of style. The way it is curved to the wrist really masks the size of the unit. The moto 360 is going to be a great looking watch… it’s very similar in size to a stainless steel watch i wear when i go out – large watches are in fashion.

      As for battery life, sure a week on a charge would be great, but this is more about battery tech than anything to do with the economy or functionality of these devices. Most of us charge our phones every day, it literally takes me a couple more seconds to put my watch on charge right next to it.

      There are already heaps of apps available which extend the usefulness of android wear devices. Especially if you install the wear store apl on your phone – heaps of developers are getting behind android wear already.

      I think it looks very promising. The things these devices are made to do, they do quite well and they are only going to get better.

  • crutchcorn

    I feel that these things can be fixed.
    For not doing enough, everyday I see that the list of apps running on Android Wear. You also have to remember that Android Wear is only a slimmed down version of Android. They would be able to do almost anything in the future if they choose to do so.
    As for the cost of wearables, you have to remember that Acer is most likely going to announce a 100 dollar watch with AMOLED. Also, if they are able to increase the amount that a smartwatch can do, then it’ll be possible to convince the masses that the price would justify the cost.
    People also decided that a phone should only be used for calls. Even the first phone with iTunes was a flop. All it takes is for these problems to be solved, and for the devices to be pushed to the average consumer as much as possible. Advertising is key here.
    You’re right, they aren’t stylish. But was the original iPhone?
    Battery life is always an issue, but as time goes on – there will be more and more R&D that will lead to better battery tech. This will in turn improve battery life.
    Voice is often required, but like any peice of software – that can be changed. I think that voice will ALWAYS be needed for wearables, but we can always improve that.
    Lastly, I love me some fitness wearables… But wait, is that a heart rate monitor in that Moto 360? And a gyroscope in future devices? Huh. It’s almost like they can be one in the same in the future.

    TL;DR, if Google plays their cards right, Android Wear will become the next great thing

  • wmsco1

    The picture is; running around with a mobile pc connected to your belt with the watch as a extension so you never have to pull your phone out. Much like Bluetooth ear piece. To me a watch is more to my liking than an earpiece. The manufacturer’s who dropped answering calls miss the point of the device, a extension of the phone. Granted technology needs to step up to make the watch more coherent and easy to use and longer battery. Texting in my opinion is not a option to be done on the watch, but reading the text is. The Galaxy Gear which I have is a delightful device and has been very useful including the camera. The camera I would say is not for photo shots but informational purposes like showing a part to the boss etc. Most people I have met or has seen me using it have said that is so cool. So basically, tech needs to improve and implementation meaning what is useful and what should be the standard features. So that will eventually be worked out. Price point I agree should be a lot lower for a accessory. Mass production will bring it down in price some time in the future. There just getting their feet wet before diving in. More awareness of the product to the masses would also help.

  • http://www.techrodd.com/ Jento Pieters

    I got the LG G Watch. Family and friends go ‘WOW’. Literally. I like it, not because of it’s downsides, but because of what it can do. It’s a watch, that can control your phone, play games, control music, display notification. What more does it need to do? Come on, we’re 2014, this is not a year where people will buy these new things. Just like Google Glass.
    Maybe in 2020-2030 we’ll see people accepting, but for now it’s only enthousiasts that are interested in the newest gadgets. And those gadgets don’t need to be perfect nor can they be.

  • David

    Having a watch as a notification centre has served me well so far, I have been caught in situations where I cannot hear my phone ring, but have felt the vibration on my wrist, and a quick glance tells me what my phone is seeking attention for.
    This leads to another point. Screen visibility in bright sunlight. I have read that bright sunlight can severely obscure the watch’s face visibility, which is why I am still settling with my Pebble; the brighter the sunlight, the easier to read, and there is a back-light for low light situations.

    Of course battery life is a concern, and the 1 to 2 days battery life is a encumbrance to the Android Wear structure, and the requirement that it be rear lit to be visible at all, unlike Pebble, means that you have to shake/tap/press to activate the screen, which in itself can be a problem if you are otherwise occupied.

    A solution will invariably arrive, like Qualcomm’s mirasol display, a low power, always on display, like e-Ink, but in colour, and like e-Ink, only uses power to change pixel colours and relies on ambient light or a back-light to illuminate the display.

    The watch will develop, but I don’t think it should try to be a phone, just an intelligent peripheral. And of course, improve it’s form factor.

  • Major_Pita

    Don’t get me wrong, I am way invested into the android platform between phones tablets and software. Like any good enthusiast I buy more than makes sense. But when it comes to something I strap onto my wrist…That’s a place for serious stuff that I can beat the hell out of and that only needs batteries every few months if at all. Suntu, Pathfinder…preferably in solar/titanium.
    The last thing I need is yet another device with sub-24 hour battery life that I have to remember to charge nightly and to take off before I shower.

  • William Peterson

    As much as I would like the Moto 360 I am pretty content with my Pebble watch. It does about everything I need it to do and I don’t have to talk to it. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind, but for now, the Pebble it is.

  • Flip Jumpman

    I’m guessing that the author of this article doesn’t like watches in general to begin with?

  • compupolis

    If someone looks at you funny or asks why you’re talking to your watch, just tell them you work for Devon Miles at the Foundation for Law and Government and you’re actually talking to your car, the Knight Industries Two Thousand. If anybody asks you about Michael Knight, just tell them he retired and you’re his replacement.

  • Brandon Franklin

    This article missed two key points. the first challenge for AW is iwatch. Period. But it will be a double edge sword because it will also be “the light at the end of the tunnel” and google will finally find out WTF a smart watch/wearable is supposed to function like. I mean android fan or not who

  • Arturo Raygoza

    I’ve been saying this but android authority doesn’t want to see the truth, no one wants these because they are useless

  • Chasew83

    I have the g watch and get more than a day out of it easily. It is comfortable and functions as I need it to. I do not need it to do much more than it does. It. Ages my life at work easier, as I only need to have my phone if I need to respond to an important email or text. I dont think it is easy to be much more than that. I can say I am more productive since wearing the watch as I’m it constantly checking my phone. Most people will spend over $200 on a good watch and both the current iterations are much more functional than a standard watch. There is no real downside in my eyes. I love my G watch and wear it every day!

  • a

    Smartwatches combined with google glass would offer an important benefit: have the smartwatch act as a trackpad for controlling google glass. Actually there would be no need for an actual smartwatch in this setup, just a regular watch with a digitizer layer and bluetooth cababilities. This would reduce the biggest technical drawback google glass has – UI input. People could then just sit silently with a blank stare and fiddle their wrists

  • Flip Jumpman

    My Word! C’mon Android Authority, the “Intruders” AD is intruding on my phone… Please tone it down some, it’s obnoxious and makes this great site not so enjoyable lately.

  • Richard Lee

    I love my Gear Live. The (dumb) Casio G Shock watch it replaced was about $150 – $200 anyways. I love getting my notifications without needing to pull out my phone. The battery is nearly drained by the time I charge it before bed, but so is my phone’s battery….and I don’t sleep wearing a watch anyway’s so I have no problem with charging it while I sleep.
    I think my watch is far from ugly, and it gets plenty of attention. As of this post, Wear Apps (an app I installed to compile all Android Wear Apps) has 531 apps listed for the platform. Granted, most of them I have no interest in or may just be watch faces (which in itself is kind of awesome) but it shows that the platform is growing. It hasn’t even been out 2 months yet.

  • theonlywoody

    Sometimes i have to get up at 10pm for work. I strap my gear live on around 1030pm and it lasts all the way until around 9pm- to 10pm the next night when i go to bed. I have a sleep for about 4 hours in that time but my watch doesnt. My phone comes off charge at the same time but gets charged in between in the car and sometimes at home for about 2 to 3 hours and its usually pretty spent at bed time. The watch will still have between 5 to 15 percent charge.