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7 greatest challenges facing Android Wear

Android Wear faces many challenges, here are seven that could prevent smartwatches from taking off anytime soon.
August 20, 2014

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.

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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?