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Android Wear & Apple Watch: what's good, what could be better?
It’s been an interesting month for wearables, with the release of the Moto 360 and announcement of the Asus ZenWatch, LG G Watch R and Apple’s long-rumored “Apple Watch”. Now that we have a fuller picture of the smartwatch landscape, we decided its time to take a good look at where we are at, what’s good about current smartwatches and what could be better.
For this Friday Debate we look at both the new Apple Watch and the Android Wear family. What works better on AW vs Apple Watch? What did Apple hit out of the park? What could Apple, Google and other OEMs do better? Be sure to check out our team’s responses and then let us know what you think in the comments below.
It has been an interesting, and powerful couple weeks for smartwatches. I wanted to say wearable technology, but I’ve seen nothing but smartwatches of any interest. More on that later.
Android Wear powered smartwatches were announced or launched from a large selection of manufacturers around the IFA conference at the beginning of the month. Perhaps the most significant launch was the Motorola Moto 360, which has been on many people’s wish list for several months now.
Apple came to the table this week with their smartwatch, allowing us to take a good look at what options users will have in the coming months. Let’s start with the good stuff, I think Apple completely screwed up the UI. Don’t get me wrong, I have a bad habit with my developer’s mindset of building images, apps and programs that are cluttered too, but Google’s Android Wear UI offers an interface that is hard to not be attracted to, and has been an inspiration for me.
It is hard to say that Android Wear’s minimalist design offers everything one needs for their computing needs, I’m just saying that Apple’s design brings too much to the screen to offer the ‘quick glance’ experience. We’ll see a lot of comparisons of the Apple smartwatch vs the Android Wear offerings as we go, so I’ll not talk about that too much. What I want to talk about is the smartwatch altogether.
While I am intrigued by smartwatches, I stopped wearing a watch altogether a number of years ago for a reason, it gets in my way. Right now, as I type this, had I a watch on my wrist, it would be digging both into my wrist and this laptop. So a watch doesn’t serve me well at all.
Android Wear has potential beyond the watch, which I think is the clincher here. But what is that other form factor that will work for me? I don’t know. One thing is for sure, Android Wear offers the overall services and features that I think will work best for me. I just need to figure out what wearable form factor should hold my display.
(After all of my anti-watch ramblings, I am really looking forward to seeing the LG G Watch R in action. I might just bite the bullet anyway.)
When I look at a new platform, I try not to look at things the way they are right now but rather what they could be in the future. If you look back, the first iteration of pretty much everything that’s great now wasn’t so great when it was in its first year. We have the Xbox One and PS4 now but in the first year of video games, it required a super computer (at the time) and games were just colored lines on a black background with very basic controls. The first TVs were black and white and were tiny with terrible speakers. The first smartphones were small, slow, and laggy. Was the HTC G1 an iconic device? Yep. Was it also hardware limited, laggy, and slow? Yep. I look at Android Wear and the Apple Watch the same way. Right now is their “colored lines on a black background” era. This first year is essentially the HTC G1 of smartwatches. Is it really cool? Yes. Is it going to be a few years before the platform really takes off and people find better uses for it? You betcha! Just like Android!
That said the pros and cons are the same on both platforms. They’ve gotten the ball rolling which is good and there are some peripheral uses which are really unique and fun (Android Wear has Google Now functionality which is nice and Apple Watch has NFC payments which is equally nice). What few features these devices have are actually pretty awesome and that’s something I genuinely wasn’t expecting in the first year iteration.
The cons, however, outweigh the pros right now in that developers haven’t taken full advantage of the platform. I believe there was a piece on Time.com that talked about this issue really well. They stated that developers were simply trying to migrate tasks from the smartphone screen to the watch screen and it generally had bad results. The Eat24 app is only useful if you want to order the exact same thing you’ve ordered before. Apps that require precise controls are wonky at best thanks to the small touch screen.
I think both platforms will begin to excel and have unique uses when app developers stop looking at it as “just a smaller screen” and start looking at it for what it really is: a companion device. The piece in Time.com mentioned that there will be a point where developers will look at the platform and think “what can I make this watch do that will make looking at the watch faster than using your phone.”
When apps come out that follow that line of thinking, I think we’ll all be more excited about Android Wear and the Apple Watch. Until then, there won’t be many overly interesting or groundbreaking apps or functions.
Oh and they really need to do something about the battery life. Woof!
I’ve always enjoyed the idea of having a smart watch. I was an early adaptor and owned the original Sony Smart Watch. Little did I know how I’d use my smartwatch. I quickly learned that running full blown apps, picture viewing, or actual typing on a watch is more annoying than useful. By the time I was done fiddling with my watch, I could have completed the same task within a few seconds on my actual phone. I quickly realised I wanted to just look at notifications, and use baked responses to respond if needed. I also, wanted music control as well. The Sony did not support the new Hangouts upgrade, nor did it support Play Music. That was enough to make the watch useless to me.
When the pebble came out, that seemed to hit the sweet spot for what I think a smartwatch should be. Quick access to your notifications with baked-in responses. I still held off, due to the fact of the screen. I felt the greyscale screen made it look like a toy. I wanted a watch that looked like a watch, and something I can wear with a suit or business casual clothing.
Fast forward one more year and Android Wear was announced. After watching the keynote at I/O, I was excited to see the direction of Android Wear. Just what I wanted, notifications on your watch, and also Google Now cards. Google Now has matured to the point where it’s part of my everyday workflow, and I find it a crucial part of my day. When I heard Android Wear does not allow for OEM skins, and you’ll get the same experience on your watch regardless of the model, I was on board.
I was one of the guys refreshing every few seconds on the Play Store. I was hoping to get a chance to get the Moto 360. During the I/O they announced the 360 will be ready later in the summer, the crowd released a collective moan, and I was right there with them. However, I did pick up the G Watch since I was excited to get my hands on a device.
Fast forward a few months later, as I write this post, the watch is not on my wrist. It’s actually in my glove box, with no power for the last few weeks. As a guy who loves to wear watches, this smartwatch cramped my style. I even installed a metal band on it, but it still looks and feels like a toy. I overlooked one of things I really needed in a watch thinking the functionality will outweigh it, but it didn’t.
You see, to me, a smartwatch should be something that you interact with periodically throughout the day. The rest of the day you see it, check the time, and move on. Other people see the watch on you, and it’s seen as an accessory. Just like a pair of nice shoes. I had to decide If was going to wear my Movado, Tag, or my LG. And obviously one of my luxury watches ended up on my wrist. I just am not willing to give up my wrist real-estate for a toy. Heck, I even tried to wear one watch on each wrist, but I felt like a bootlegged Mr. T.
My eye is on the Moto 360, it will be a great alternative for my day to day setup. If I were to wear a suit, that watch still will look like a normal watch (I hope). Granted it’s not a luxury watch and I don’t expect it to be for $250. But a quick watch to toss on if I’m running to the store, or just a normal day at work sitting at my desk. One major concern for me is battery life, and I’m not sure if the technology is there yet. I’m sure the next generation of smartwatches will have 48-72 hours worth of battery life or more. But only time will tell.
After seeing Apple’s offering it seems like they are not sure what people want. They provided a little bit of everything on their smartwatch. It reminds me of my Sony I had a few years ago. They tried a little bit of everything. Spaghetti at the wall technique, just seeing what sticks. The interface sure is pretty, but how long does it take to “dial in” to your application cluster? For me, It seems like you will go back to fiddling to figure out what you want to do on your watch. It also looks like a toy. Not necessarily because it’s square, but the thickness and the interface. I was not impressed, and I think if anyone honestly looks at it objectively they’ll think the same thing.
I’m excited for Android’s smartwatch landscape. A lot of the big players have joined the arms race. LG has a round device coming soon, and there are HTC rumors I’m hearing as well. Here’s to 2015 for smartwatches.