While 2015 wasn’t the best year for Android Wear in terms of sales or even brand exposure, it was a good year for the platform overall, and for wearables in general. The fact that wearables have become sellers in their own right is a positive move for smartwatches like Android Wear models, as it means consumers are willing to spend their money on these little gadgets some of us have grown to love. As consumers come to expect more from the fitness tracker however, watches like the Huawei Watch and Moto 360 need to work harder and work smarter in order to get people to pay the more expensive price tags these devices command. Last year was a year that was dominated by big hardware releases, the Huawei Watch took everyone by surprise, the TAG Heuer Connected made people question its price tag and the Fossil Q Founder proved that you can’t trade on brand alone. So, what about 2016? What does this year hold for Android Wear? Well, here are some predictions, based on what we’ve seen hardware partners try and what the market is asking for.
Phone Calls From Our Wrists
Despite the fact that the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition (wow, what a name) was pulled from shelves a little over a week on sale, it seems Android Wear will be getting the ability to take calls later this year. If the tweet from Huawei wasn’t enough evidence, the watch’s hardware already let the cat out of the bag last year. Unlike other Android Wear smartwatches, the Huawei Watch shipped with both a microphone and a speaker, albeit dormant without any uses. Since then, a beta version of the software testing the speaker has been spotted, and during CES 2016 Huawei themselves teased the watch taking calls.
This would be a big deal for Android Wear, and while you might feel a little strange talking to your wrist, we already do that with Google Now, and nobody would go out of their way to endure a long phone call on such a small speaker. Still, it’s a handy feature, and it’s one that the Apple Watch and Gear S2 both have, leaving Google little choice but to let their partners join the party if they want to stay competitive. This could also be a sly way of Google and co. to get people to upgrade their watches a little sooner than they had planned. The G Watch R from 2014 is still a great-looking smartwatch that does all the same things as a Huawei Watch, except take phone calls. Those that would be happy with their current smartwatch might feel the need to trade up, and this could be a good move for the whole platform, even if it hurts our wallets.
An Android Wear Fitness Tracker?
It’s arguable that watches like the Moto 360 Sport (pictured above and reviewed here) and Sony SmartWatch 3 do a good job of tracking your movement and such, but a dedicated tracker is what we’re talking about here. Since its birth, Android Wear was never solely intended for just smartwatches and over the past couple of years, Google Fit has become pretty formidable, offering Android Wear watches some health features out of the box, but the hardware isn’t enough.
Devices like the Microsoft Band 2 and FitBit Surge have proven that a watch with a pedometer, GPS and heart-rate sensor just isn’t enough. As an owner of a Microsoft Band I can tell you that the more accurate sensors and built-in GPS (found in only a few Android Wear devices) combined with a more fitness-focused build makes all the difference when getting out there. Just like Microsoft’s excellent Microsoft Health service, Google Fit has all the makings of a great service with oodles of data, it just needs more focused trackers to capture that data.
Android Wear Marshmallow
Towards the end of last year, Android 6.0 Marshmallow was launched, following on from the previous year’s Android 5.0 Lollipop release. Since then, it’s managed to reach a handful of smartphones and little else. It will be coming to Android Wear however, just as Android 5.0.1 did and Android 5.1.1 did before it, but what features will it bring? Well, that’s a little unclear right now, but if we rely on history then Android Wear could be in store for some big updates with the Marshmallow update. Last year, Android 5.1 Lollipop hit Wear devices with a bevy of changes and new features such as WiFi support, a new way of reaching contacts and loading apps and the ability to draw and send Emoji to people. Since then we were also treated to interactive watch faces, too.
With Marshmallow on Wear, Google could try to kickstart 2016 with a raft of new features and refinements to keep pushing Android Wear along. As Marshmallow introduced some new features to Android on the phone like a change in app permissions, we could see some added security measures inside of Android Wear when it’s updated, but for now there’s no telling what Google could do with Android Wear in a Marshmallow update. It could be a small upgrade over the previous versions, or it could be a big, feature rich update like Android 5.1.1 was, we’ll have to wait and see.
A Nexus Smartwatch?
This one might sound like a longshot, but Huawei made the Nexus 6P and Huawei made the Huawei Watch. That alone isn’t enough to think something like this is in the works, but if you look at each Nexus smartphone release since the Galaxy Nexus they’ve steadily become more and more like your average consumer product. Google even debuted aftercare plans for the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P last Fall, and even though it’s not the same model as walking into a store and purchasing a phone, these are devices marketed to consumers these days – and have been for a while – and there’s nothing like a consumer product than a watch.
Besides, Google would have a good few reasons to launch such a product. Google Fit has clearly cost Google a lot of man hours in research and testing, and there’s nothing beyond a phone and some smartwatches that really make good use of it. With a Nexus Watch, Google could give a clear case for using Fit, just as Apple do with their fitness products in the Apple Watch. Secondly, they could use a Nexus Watch just as the original Nexus phones were intended to be; as developer devices. The original G Watch is fairly easy to unlock and tinker with, but it’s getting a little long in the tooth by now, and as we’ve seen in the past couple of years, having a device that’s easy to tinker with as well as one that looks good can be the same device. Imagine a watch that’s current and good-looking that developers can crack open and give Google some great ideas on where to head next.