With the launch of Android Wear, smartwatches were catapulted from the realm of gimmickry to the rarefied peaks of must-have technology. Or were they?
It’s easy to get excited over Google’s efforts. After all, no smartwatch platform before Android Wear has managed to obtain large-scale success, and the fact that Google has put its weight behind the concept is hugely encouraging.
Alas, great concepts don’t always translate into great products, and hype alone is not enough for a new class of devices to take off.
So, in this Friday Debate, tell us, is Android Wear all you hoped it would be before its launch? Are you particularly impressed – or disappointed – with the features of the first AW devices (Gear Live and G Watch) and the operating system itself? Were you hoping for something more or is the current form of Android Wear already a strong product?
Join our discussion, vote in our poll, and sound off in the comments.
I have been a bit of a wearables sceptic in the past, but Android Wear has been a pleasant surprise. The hardware seems to be in the right place now, with waterproofing and higher quality displays at the top of my features list. Product diversity is also a big bonus for consumers, especially compared to the limited range of looks available with previous products like Samsung’s Gear or Pebble.
Android Wear has helped pull wearables away from being labelled as a gimmick, but it’s still not a product that I feel is going to have universal appeal. Fortunately, Google has paid a huge amount of attention to making the software functional and the UI intuitive, and communication between compatible apps seems to be as effortless as possible. Quick responses, music controls, and navigation cards are all a little more convenient on your wrist than having to whip out your phone, which is where the real value in a smartwatch lies.
There are still some obvious limitations to the platform – it probably needs wider implementation of voice commands, there’s only so much that you can fit on such a small screen, and it’s still a pain to have to go back and open some things on your phone. We are also going to have to see what sort of functionality third party developers can bring to the platform, but fortunately Google has made plenty of tools available.
On the whole, Android Wear looks like it is off to a great start, and the platform will only improve as new hardware and software arrives with time.
I am really excited for Android Wear. However, as you will learn in my upcoming review of the LG G Watch, it is not because the system is great already – I’m excited because I know it can only get better from here.
As it stands right now, Android Wear is really limited. It looks and works wonderfully as a notification center, even if a number of them show you only as much as the non-expanded versions in your notification dropdown on the phone. However, having a background picture and the card in front of it a la Material Design is a nice way of displaying information and has yet to get old.
If there is one task that I am always happy to do, it’s messaging. While it currently only works with Hangouts for replying to messages and SMS texts, being able to swipe over, hit reply, and then just dictate a response is a breeze. It doesn’t work all the time and sometimes you have to talk like a robot to get it to work, but for every instance that it doesn’t work, there are half a dozen successful replies and I have a tiny ‘mind blown’ moment each and every time. If you were already a fan of the dictation capabilities of Google Now, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy it on Android Wear devices.
So here are the current limitations – first and foremost, Android Wear is meant to be an extension of your phone, not a replacement for it. That is exactly what I always imagined smartwatches to be, but I find myself missing certain functions that were before possible with my Pebble and now are not available in Wear due to its nature. My main example of this is having an all-in-one solution for music playback and volume control.
Companion apps that install to the watch via the phone application are either opened via their corresponding voice command (which is okay) or by going through a few swipes of a menu, which is a drag. Perhaps having an easily accessible card listing the apps you can initialize would be one solution to this.
And then my last gripe is with notifications themselves. While just getting a ring on your watch alerting you to received notifications is good already, it would be nice to expand all of them to read on the watch rather than needing to get the phone out. Granted, this is a limitation that is dependent on the way those specific apps format their notifications in the dropdown, but it’s something you notice quite a lot when swiping away.
But here’s the point of the excitement – as I’m typing this right now, the full release of Android Wear devices hasn’t even happened yet – I can’t even say that Wear is in its infancy because as far as the general consumer is concerned, it hasn’t even been born yet. And that means there is infinite room for the ecosystem to grow. Plenty of applications are updating on a rolling basis to support Wear and that will only continue – but what I really want to see are developers creating standalone applications that you install on your phone which then push functionality to the watch, much like what we saw in the early days of the Pebble. I imagine that this is the way many of the holes in functionality will be filled, and I can’t wait for that to happen.
(Oh, and the vibration on all the watches across the board could be more pronounced. Just sayin’.)
The Android Wear devices available right now are a disappointment. The problem with smart watches has been, and continues to be, an issue of whether I would want to wear this on my wrist. For people who wear watches, the question is whether the smart watch looks and functions better than their regular watch, and for people who don’t wear watches it’s also a question of how the smart watch looks and also whether the services it provides are worth the “effort” of putting something on your wrist.
Right now, the Gear Live and the LG G Watch aren’t very attractive, they’ve got horrible battery life and they don’t offer much. Were we expecting so much from version 1.0 products? Probably not. What Android Wear has succeeded in doing is getting the software 90% of the way there. It offers notifications in an easy to view and manage method, it tells the time, offers navigation and it looks and works pretty well. Obviously, there are still little quirks such as being pushed to your phone too often for my liking, but the software isn’t the big problem right now, the hardware is.
As far as looks go, it looks as if we will have to wait for the Moto 360 before we can comfortably say we’d welcome a smart watch on our wrists as far as fashion is concerned. Battery life, is and will remain an issue for the forceable future. Samsung could perhaps offer a mode similar to the Galaxy S5’s Ultra power saving mode, on the Gear Live where the whole OS goes black and white to take advantage of the Super AMOLED display, and there are other options such as Qualcomm’s Mirasol display, but for now we’ll be required to charge our smart watches more often than we’d like.
Android Wear has succeeded in creating an OS that people would like to use, but now it’s up to the OEMs to create devices that people would like to use. The Moto 360 might be that device, but whether it can live up to the incredible hype is yet to be seen. Right now, we are stuck in a waiting game and most people would be better off waiting before taking the plunge into Android Wear, I’m not too sure I can do that though.