Has Google just taken over the wearables industry?

March 21, 2014
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On this Friday Debate, we talk about Android Wear and what it means for the budding wearable industry.

Google took many by surprise this week when it announced Android Wear, a lightweight version of Android that’s designed for wearable devices, and smartwatches in particular. Android Wear will allow almost any app to send a simple actionable notification to a wearable device. Heavily integrated with Google Now, Wear-powered devices will feature voice commands as the main form of interaction. Google released an SDK, and two OEMs, Motorola and LG, have already announced products running on Wear.

The concept videos that we were shown and the details we were able to glean from the SDK suggest that Android Wear is miles ahead other smartwatch platforms, like Samsung’s Tizen or Pebble. So, did Google just appropriate the wearable market for itself? Will Wear be for wearables what Android has been for mobile? Do competing platforms stand a chance in face of Google’s onslaught?

Join us in the comments and vote in the poll.

Robert Triggs

I like what I’ve seen from Android Wear and the Moto 360. As a bit of a wearables sceptic, I’m not blown away, but I’m optimistic about where Google’s improvements could take the market in the not too distant future.

The Cue Cards interface probably has the most potential, it seems like a very functional way to interact with and respond to your notifications, reducing the number of interactions that wearers are likely to have to make with their handset.

My biggest concern with wearables is the need to keep going back to the smartphone at some point. What I really want from a smartwatch is the ability to interact efficiently and accurately from just the watch itself. Google’s Cue Cards and voice commands are certainly on the right track, now we just need to see about hardware manufacturers offering up small enough modem packages.

So, does Android Wear make other developers obsolete? Not at all. For example, Samsung’s Gear 2 offers up some equally impressive improvements on the first generation of smartwatches, including similar voice command features. The biggest game changer, for me, is that Android Wear will hopefully make the technology more accessible to both hardware and software developers, which can only mean better looking designs and improved software features in the future. The Moto 360 looks nice, but I bet that experienced watchmakers could design something even better.

I still probably won’t be completely sold on the wearables market until I can ditch my phone completely and take calls, messages, etc just from my wrist, even then I’m not sure that would be preferable to a phone. Android Wear seems to be the push that the market needs to eventually make this a reality. The wearables industry is only in its infancy, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Andrew Grush

Up until now, I’ve looked on the wearable market with curiosity, but none of the devices offered have had the “wow factor” required to make me consider wearing a watch on my wrist again — something I stopped doing about ten years ago.

So does Android Wear have what takes to win me over? While the jury is still out, I admit Google has my attention, and the Moto 360 in particular looks like one heck of a device.

I love the idea of Google’s clean UI driven by a combination of Google Now-like cards and voice commands. It seems very organized and easy to use. At the same time, I often find the type of notifications I get alerted to on my Nexus 5 to be more than a bit distracting. Would I want that same level of distraction on my wrist? It really depends on how good of a job Google does at prioritizing what notifications get through to my smartwatch and what doesn’t.

Bottom-line, I will certainly keep a close eye out on Android Wear devices like the Moto 360. As for existing solutions like the Pebble and the Gear family? Although Android Wear is more my cup of tea, many of the existing smartwatches have their own special features and abilities that set them apart and make them worthwhile, even in the light of Google’s smartwatch platform announcement.

As an example, the Gear series of watches adds a kitchen-sink worth of extra features like a camera and more, while the Pebble is minimalistic and relatively cheaper than most other smartwatches. That said, Android Wear certainly does raise the bar on what we’ll expect from smartwatches going forward.

Bogdan Petrovan

The concept videos are definitely impressive – seeing them for the first time, I had a moment of “is this real life?”. But doing nice concept videos is easy; there are still huge challenges ahead, and the pressure is not on Google, but on hardware partners like HTC, Samsung, Motorola and LG.

I am really curious to see if Motorola will be able to make the 360 work as good as it looks. Leaving software aside for a minute, a good smartwatch must have great battery life, work smoothly, sync flawlessly, and have great gesture and voice recognition. Samsung, with its huge resources and engineering prowess, failed to bring all these qualities together in one cohesive product. Will Motorola, LG or the other Android Wear adopters do better?

Until we see the first real products, it’s too early to write any competitor off, but it’s very tempting to do so. Let’s face it – Pebble, Gear, Sony Smartwatch, they look like they were created in another decade compared to what we saw in those concepts.

Strategically, Google dealt a big blow to Apple this week. By the time the rumored iWatch comes out, there could be several competitive Android Wear smartwatches on the market, and dozens more in the planning. Google will have the first mover advantage and the cachet that comes with it.

What I am really excited about is the avalanche of wearables that’s coming in the next months and years. Now that Google is giving away an excellent software platform, the barrier of entry for wearables has been lowered tremendously. I expect dozens of manufacturers to throw themselves in this new arena, echoing the evolution of smartphones, but at a far faster pace. Exciting times ahead.

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