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Is Android Wear a threat to Google Glass?

With Android Wear offering up contextual notifications in appealing form factors, is it too late for Google Glass to have an impact on the world of wearables?
July 4, 2014

Google Glass was certainly a forward-thinking piece of product design when it was first announced, and it has rightfully attracted a dedicated following of Explorers since its inception. But it doesn’t seem that the general public quite feels the same way about the project. Even ignoring the anti-Glass privacy crowd, the appetite for Google Glass generally seems to be waning, partly because it’s been a while since its initial unveiling, and partly because there are other products now on the horizon.

Android Wear is Google’s current major wearables project, and one that looks set to have a much wider public appeal than Google Glass. So, is Android Wear about to shove Glass into the backroom for good?

Familiar form factors

Putting privacy concerns and cost aside for a minute, the biggest issue facing Google Glass is probably that Android Wear offers the wearer the same quick contextual updates and notifications, but in a more convenient and less intrusive form factor.

Google Glass teardown 2

Google Glass and Android Wear products share a very similar Google Now card-inspired interface, offering up concise notifications and updates as and when you need them. Voice commands and other convenient features are also set to make their way to Android Wear, and when it comes to content, there’s very little to tell between the two, the only difference being in the way in which this content is delivered.

In which case, we have to ask if it’s more convenient to have all this information available in the form of a wristwatch, or in a pair of glasses which beam the information right into your eye. A watch is pretty unobtrusive parked on your wrist, leaving notifications to wait until you want to check them, all whilst still being just a glance away. Glass, on the other hand, is always poised to demand your attention for as long as you’re wearing it, and is not a product that everyone is so used to wearing.

Glass vs Wear Contextual Info
Google Glass and Android Wear offer up virtually identical takes on contextual information.

I’d say that the former is not only more convenient, but also much more likely to appeal aesthetically to consumers. The Moto 360, for example, has a more traditional and stylish appearance, whilst Glass has its own niche nerdy charm. To be fair to Glass, it can also be used to capture images and video quite conveniently, but with both devices tied up to a smartphone anyway, that’s probably not going to be a deal breaker for most consumers.

App development and compatibility

Google has made it quite clear that the future of Android lies in platform unification, with smartphones, TV, laptops, and wearables all sharing a common platform, creating a more consistent experience for the users and a simplified platform for developers. Android L will be here by the fall, but, as it stands, Google Glass is not set to benefit from this transition, and could be left without much in the way of third party support yet again.

Developing apps and hacks has often been a rather restrictive affair with Google Glass, and the specific API isn’t as convenient as the developer tools that Google has shown off for Android Wear. It has even taken Google quite a long time to update Glass with many common Android features, such as Hangouts, whilst Android Wear is set to come with direct integration with the Play Store and will have access to a wider range of content right out of the box.

Although it’s conceivable that Google could try to remedy this situation, perhaps even moving Glass over the new OS, there’s also the issue of developing for Glass’ specific hardware.

Google Glass is completely dependent on voice commands and its simple swipe/tap interface for interacting with apps, which requires a slightly different take on app development. As Glass lacks the flexibility of a touchscreen display, apps are always going to have to be altered and tweaked to work with Glass, which is an added expense for developers and will lead to disappointing app rollout delays for would-be users.

Android Wear is here, right now

Google is still charging $1500 (£1,000) to enter the public Explorer program in the US and the UK, which is still way out of the price bracket that the majority of consumers will happily pay. Meanwhile, Android Wear is already upon the general consumer for a much more reasonable cost and will be heading out worldwide.

Whilst most of us have only — and will continue to — read about what Glass has to offer, we can all soon go out and try Android Wear in the form of the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live, with the Moto 360 to follow shortly. Even if Google is planning to launch a more reasonably priced consumer version of Glass at some point in the future, the project is now going to be miles behind Android Wear in terms of its install base.

Given that there’s very little to tell between the two in terms of their main functionality and that Android Wear looks set to benefit for greater third party development support, it becomes very difficult to envisage a situation in which consumers would opt for Glass over Wear in the future. The end result is that a consumer version of Glass would probably face a self-fulfilling cycle of a lack of consumers and third party app development, leaving Glass unappealing to the vast majority of the public.

moto 360 first look (11 of 12)
How many of you are excited for the Moto 360?

Despite the head start that Glass has had on Android Wear, Android Wear is, by far, the more fleshed out and consumer friendly product. Whilst I’d still very much like to see Google Glass end up on the store shelves, as it does have its own unique features, there seems to be quite a lot of work left to do before it can compete with what Android Wear looks set to offer. Niche support for Glass isn’t going to disappear anytime soon, but I can’t help but wonder if Glass is in danger of gradually fading into obscurity for the rest of us.