If you’re a smartwatch fan, the past week or so has not been kind to you. Pebble, one of the first companies to launch such a device, is rumored to be sold off to Fitbit in the near future. Last Thursday, Motorola said it has no immediate plans to launch a new smartwatch, stating that wearable devices as a whole don’t have enough of a broad appeal. LG and Huawei have already stated they won’t launch new Android Wear devices this year, and their plans for the smartwatch market for 2017 are currently unknown.
Oddly, the Android Wear mantle has been taken up by more traditional watch companies like Fossil, Michael Kors and others. There’s also the recently launched Polar M600, which is a smartwatch-fitness tracker hybrid. While it’s always a great thing to have competition in technology, the lack of new Android Wear devices from smartphone OEMs is no doubt troubling.
All of this has to be very concerning to Google, as it continues to develop its Android Wear OS for smartwatches. To top it all off, smartwatch shipments worldwide reportedly took a beating in the third quarter of 2016. Add it all up, and the market for smartwatches is not looking good at the moment.
This current situation doesn’t have to stay this way, though. What can Google do to boost interest in Android Wear smartwatches among both OEMs and consumers? We think it needs to do at least three things to get things going again.
Google needs to release its own high-end Android Wear watch
This is perhaps the most common sense thing that Google can do to show off its revamped smartwatch platform. Certainly the launch of the company’s Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones this year proved that Google can make a smartphone that matches, or even exceeds those of its many hardware partners, while also offering some inspiration for those OEMs to be more innovative for their next smartphones.
In the same way, Google needs to develop and release its own Android Wear watch that can showcase what the OS can truly do (Pixel Watch, anyone?). It can also be used to go after the audience that’s been buying the Apple Watch, which has not been a tremendous sales success, despite reportedly leading the market (Apple has refused to release sales numbers for the Apple Watch, which normally is not a good sign). Indeed, some rumors do claim that Google is going to launch two of its own smartwatches when Android Wear 2.0 gets its official release, but those plans have not been confirmed.
Google needs to develop and release its own Android Wear watch that can showcase what the OS can truly do
If Android Wear is to succeed, Google needs to get its hands dirty and make an impressive wearable to showcase its OS with as many features as it can.
Smartwatch hardware needs to be more innovative
Simply put, the biggest reason why smartwatches have not been attracting consumers is that people don’t see the need for them. After all, they have their smartphone, which on the surface can do many more things than a smartwatch currently can do. Why spend a few hundred dollars more for a device to wear on your wrist when you don’t really need it?
Google and its OEM partners need to collaborate and offer features that will attract consumers to their devices. Offering longer battery life will be a start, and more devices with true cellular wireless connectivity would help even more. With Bluetooth headphones becoming more and more popular, smartwatches could be used to take stand alone phone calls or even texts, which might make them more attractive to the consumer.
Google and its OEM partners need to collaborate and offer features that will attract consumers to their devices
Beyond that, smartwatches also need to offer features that smartphones cannot offer right now. This might include better health monitoring features that could warn you if your blood sugar is too low, or if you’re experiencing something more serious like a heart attack, for instance. More smartwatches should also be water and dust resistant. Many people like to go hiking in adverse or isolated conditions, and having a smartwatch help keep track of where they are, without fear of it breaking down, would be a big help. Others might want to even swim with their smartwatch, and devices with future versions of Android Wear might want to incorporate a way to stay submerged for brief periods of time to keep track of their owners as they hit the pool.
We don’t think the smartphone will be going away anytime soon. We do, however, think that if Android Wear smartwatches were to add these hardware features (plus others that haven’t been thought of yet), they could take up many of the tasks that are normally performed by smartphones.
Smartwatches need to feature better software and apps
Android Wear 2.0 is already planning to take big step in making itself more useful than the first version, as it will allow apps to be downloaded and installed on smartwatches without the need for a phone. However, more needs to be done to make the OS more attractive to both app developers and consumers.
Having apps that offer a “one touch” experience would be a huge help for Android Wear. The small screen simply cannot handle a lot of menu access, so the ability for apps to just work with one tap, or as few as possible, will make using smartwatches more useful. There are unconfirmed reports that Google is working to put in tap-to-pay functionality to Android Wear in time for the 2.0 launch, which would definitely help draw more users into the wearable space. More software for health and fitness functions could also be incorporated into Android Wear, for every kind of activity, like biking, hiking, rock climbing or even extreme sports like snowboarding. There are certainly third-party apps that do these things, but the functionality isn’t built in by default.
Many people try to use their smartphones to monitor their home, or even to get in or out with smart locks. However, the smartphone can sometimes be too bulky to use in this fashion. More remote control apps and software could be incorporated into Android Wear for future smartwatches for opening your home, turning on lights, starting the coffee maker and more.
The smartwatch is also perfect for people who not only want to keep track of their health but also want to have an automatic journal of everything they do in a waking day. Software could be written up that will allow users to take pictures and data from their life, such as going to work, or spending time with family. At the end of the day, that kind of info can be uploaded to a cloud service so people can have a true diary of their life to look back on one day. This kind of daily journal app could be coming sooner, rather than later, to smartwatches.
Allowing OEMs to create their own Android Wear software skins would also be a huge help
Allowing hardware partners to create their own Android Wear software skins would also be a huge help. Google might want to think about letting hardware and software makers be able to create their own UI, if they want, for their Android Wear devices. While we understand why Google wants to have a more consistent interface across all of these kinds of devices, it could be argued that the company’s current software implementation isn’t bringing enough of a unique twist to Android Wear watches. Opening up the OS for this kind of customization will lead to more software innovation, and hopefully attract more consumers to these products. It will allow for OEMs to perhaps push the envelope in terms of adding new features such as more fluid animations, menus and other changes that Google has yet to come up with in the stock Android Wear OS.
Smartwatches are still a viable tech product, but so far, no one has been able to convince the regular Joe or Jane to pick one up like they have with smartphones. Google has a huge opportunity to break that consumer barrier with Android Wear. The company was supposed to officially launch version 2.0 of its Android Wear platform by the end of 2016, but the big update was recently delayed until the first quarter of 2017. If they were to make some changes to their software strategy, and work to make their own impressive devices as well as collaborate with others on their own products, it could allow the OS to not only be more successful, but ultimately serve as the leader in wearable software, as Android has done in the smartphone market.
Of course, this is just our opinion, but we definitely want to hear from you on how you think Android Wear can become successful. What do you think Google and its hardware and software partners need to do to make that happen? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.