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Android Wear vs Apple Watch Software Comparison

With Apple's take on the smartwatch finally here, we find out how it fares against the competition in this closer look at Android Wear vs Apple Watch!

Published onMay 15, 2015

Wearables have slowly been finding their feet over the last couple of years, and were given a much needed boost with the arrival of Android Wear. That said, whether we love it or hate it, what has further pushed this technology into the mainstream is the Apple Watch. Apple’s take on the smartwatch is finally here, and understandably, the first question on everyone’s mind is with regards to how it stacks up against the competition. Today, we’re going to find out what is similar and what is different between the two, in this close look at Android Wear vs Apple Watch!

For starters, it has to be mentioned that this comparison is mostly pertaining to the software side of things, as there are some differences in hardware depending on which Android Wear watch you have. For the purposes of this comparison, we will be using the LG Watch Urbane, given that it is currently the only Android Wear smartwatch to run the latest Android 5.1.1 update.

While aesthetically very different, the latest version of Android Wear and Apple’s Watch OS 1.0 couldn’t be more similar in terms of features and capabilities. Both receive notifications, answer phone calls, track fitness data, and have customizable watch faces, along with a laundry list of other features, and of course, also tell the time. Granted, there are some significant differences as well, including when it comes to the implementation of what are essentially identical features.

We begin by taking a look at how each watch handles notifications. In the case of Android Wear, notifications show up in a Google Now-esque card style format that pile up in a vertical list as more notifications are received. All of them can be dismissed easily with a simple swipe, and most come with a set of actions, such as replying to a text message or email, deleting them, or the option to open the relevant application on the phone directly from the watch.

On the other hand, the Apple Watch takes on a more mobile-like implementation with regards to how it manages notifications. Whenever a notification arrives, it briefly appears on the display, and if you happen to miss it, or want to see all your notifications, you can find them with a swipe down from the top of the display to reveal the notification shade, from which you can also dismiss them. Unlike Android Wear, only a certain set of notifications can be responded to from the watch, making for an implementation that feels less robust. Applications like Google Hangouts and Gmail require you to open them on the phone, but messages on Apple’s iMessage can be responded to from the watch itself, either via a preset message, or using voice dictation.

Speaking of voice dictation, just like their phone OS counterparts, you are dealing with Google Now on Android Wear and Siri on the Apple Watch. Google Now integration on Android Wear means that any cards that you normally get on your phone or tablet like sports scores, stocks, and weather information, will also show up on the watch. While Siri doesn’t necessarily offer that on the Apple Watch, a swipe up from the bottom of the display reveals what Apple calls “Glances,” which houses a lot of the same information that one might get from Google Now. Glances is also a management hub for other things like media controls, navigation, and even Instagram and Twitter.

For fitness junkies, both operating systems are capable of keeping track of calories burned, exercise, and heart rate monitoring, with the Apple Watch also giving you a reminder to stand and move around a bit if it thinks you’ve been sitting idle for too long. There is possibly a third party Android Wear that offers this additional feature, but is something that isn’t available out of the box.

Watch faces are also highly customizable on either OS, but for now, there are a lot more options available for Android Wear, likely due to the open nature of the platform and its third party support. Along with the appearance, watch faces on both can be customized to show pertinent information like battery life, current date, and weather, to name a few.

With the update to Android 5.1 Lollipop, Google added some new features to Android Wear, such as Wi-Fi support to allow the watch to sync with your phone without a Bluetooth connection, wrist gestures to scroll through notifications by flicking the wrist, screen lock, a dedicated app and contacts screen, as well as the ability to send emoticons. With the exception of Wi-Fi and wrist gestures, all the other features are also available on the Apple Watch, but again, in a different implementation.

For example, screen lock on Android Wear is in the form of a pattern lock, while it is a PIN iteration in the case of the Apple Watch. Applications on Android Wear can be found in a simple vertical scrolling list, compared to a series of floating circles on a black background on the Apple device, which might seem confusing, but is actually very easy to navigate. Granted, these are negligible differences, but differences nonetheless.

The big difference between these two platforms comes in what purpose they are trying to serve. Android Wear feels like a companion to your smartphone, with access to all the essentials without being too much of a distraction. On the flip side, the Apple Watch is akin to a miniaturized version of your phone, offering a lot of what your phone can also do, including taking phone calls directly from the watch, and making purchases with Apple Pay.

Most of the disparity really has to do with the app selection. Even though the Apple Watch is very new, there is already a wide selection of apps available that you won’t find on Android Wear, at least not yet, and with better integration, at least in some cases. For example, while you can receive notifications from Instagram and Twitter on Android Wear, you will still have to get your phone out to use the app. With the Apple Watch, you can scroll through Instagram or Twitter and like, comment, favorite, and retweet just like you would on the mobile, and even book an Uber ride directly from the watch.

Of course, all of this could change in just a short period of time, as both platforms continue to evolve and compete, in much the same way their mobile OS counterparts have. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and while they share a lot in common, the implementation and overall experiences are very different. At the end of the day, it is all going to come down to personal preference, just like it always has, in this never ending competition between Apple and Google, with a focus now on the domination of your wrist.

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