AH Primetime: Android Wear's Future Depends On Being More Open

Android Wear

Android Wear has its first birthday coming up this summer, and many fans of both Android and iOS are excited for what this year’s Google I/O conference will hold for the wearable OS.  Wear started out as a simple extension of your smartphone’s notification drawer inside what some might mistake for a stylish watch or fitness tracker, and has continued to evolve into a truer operating system.  The typical question of ‘what’s next?’ is a hard question to answer, but ‘what should happen next?’ is far easier.

Google’s excursion called Android Wear was officially launched and put forth for consumers and developers alike to buy and support last June at the conclusion of the first day of Google’s I/O developer conference, and since the original LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, as well as  the addition of the Motorola Moto 360  few months later, consumers now have watches from the likes of Huawei, Motorola, LG, Asus, Sony, as well as the upcoming device from the watchmakers at Tag Heuer.  But the future of this platform depends on support not just from customers and third-party developers, but also from Google and their team of developers and designers as well.

The platform that Wear has become connects a user’s smart timepiece to their Android 4.3-and-above-clad smartphone in a matter of moments using Bluetooth, allowing the phone to spend more time in the user’s pocket or purse instead of the usual in-and-out checking of notifications.  And that’s what Wear is meant to do, to allow a user to rely less on looking at the phone and let them spend time looking at a smaller, more manageable display to do the quick actions that they would normally do with their phone instead.  The easy and quick things happen on your wrist, while complex tasks happen on your phone, and Google allowed that to happen, and the future of the Wear platform has expansion in it, if success is indeed the goal.

To match the many types of Android owners, there are a larger collection of Wear-running watches than at launch, and the number and diversity will likely only continue to grow, and that’s essential.  What irked people about the Apple Watch, besides pricing because that’s a dead horse that nobody wants to beat anymore, was that the only difference between devices was color and material.  Android Wear has many form factors, from the square of LG’s G Watch and Asus’s ZenWatch, to the rounded nature of Motorola’s Moto 360, all the way to LG’s full-circle G Watch R and Watch Urbane as well as the Huawei Watch.  That span of options is a great move for the first year, but more manufacturers need to jump in and give each form factor a go, because success is both round and square in Wear.

Wear also has to be, and don’t jump the gun Android fanatics and purists, adapted to run with platforms other than Android.  That’s not to say that Google should spend huge amounts of time adapting Wear to run in conjunction with more minor mobile OS plaforms like Windows, but to have it at least function fully and normally with an iPhone so that some people who want round smartwatches but have an iPhone, don’t have to spend the cash they would on an Apple Watch and instead have the option to get into the Android Wear ecosystem.  Google has to be willing to at least open up the chances, but that will ultimately rely on Apple’s willingness to allow the compatibility from their end.

Wear, as a still-young platform with still-young possibilities, needs to get the support that Android itself has, with dedicated apps, instead of just an add-on from a normal application.  It’s great, from a developer’s standpoint, to be able to have your app extend from the phone to the watch, and, even though Wear is a terminal into only a part of the phone itself, developers should get to making apps specifically for the watch, allowing them to run there and possibly offer extended features on or to the phone.

And this brings up the point that many people are still unsure about: should Android Wear be a standalone OS, or be able to run on standalone devices?  LG introduced the Watch Urbane earlier this year with both an Android Wear-clad as well as a WebOS-powered model.  the Wear option appealed immediately to Android users, while the WebOS version left many scratching their heads: why not just have Android Wear there and use the same parts?  The same could be asked of a pseudo watchphone, the Gear S by Samsung.  It allowed a user to have a normal smartphone experience, or move all functionality and dependence to the wrist and go from there, phone-free.  Wear can’t do that, but it should at least have a Gear S-like option to do so.

Not everyone wants to abandon the traditional mobile communication standard of a phone, but some others might hate the increased phone sizes and want something clean and simple that does the basics.  Android Wear 5.1.1 comes with Wi-fi support for the watches which opens up the capability to connect to Wi-Fi and allow for notifications to pop to your wrist.  This feature could extend to the watch having a data connection of its own and, using that, could disconnect when you went for a run, to allow you to stream music without your phone on your arm or in your pocket.  Small as it may seem, allowing for a true step away from the smartphone and reliance solely, though not permanently, on the watch could be a great step towards the kind of product that Samsung imagined with the Gear S as well as LG’s Watch Urbane with WebOS. All this is just hopes, goals, and possibilities, and will likely be cleared up at least somewhat during this year’s I/O conference beginning on May 28th, and Wear will likely be  large portion of the main event since there is a lot to still be done with the young platform.