While we wait to see what Apple might have up its sleeve for us this year, I decided to see how the Android Wear experience would work for an iPhone owner used to wearing an Apple Watch.
I went with stainless steel and a black leather band; it's a bit large, but just under the threshold of what I'd consider too big. The software is Android Wear and, unlike Android on phones, Google isn't allowing any skinning or weird forks for the platform — there can be only one!
The key differences among Android Wear devices, then, comes down to hardware — sensors, the display, the casing, and such — and any custom watch faces a vendor might pre-install.
Okay, now Google ...
Setup and installation are both pretty simple: Just install the Android Wear app for iOS, pair the watch, give it a minute, and you're up and running.
Android Wear has a little walkthrough to teach users how to tap and swipe your way through the watch. Features are pretty basic when connected to an iOS device, consisting mostly of notifications, although Gmail does support replying directly via voice from Android Wear. Alarms, timers, weather, basic fitness tracking, and the like are all available. There's also a nice option for an always-on ambient display that works quite well and doesn't take a huge toll on battery life. (It's definitely a feature I'd like to see on a future Apple Watch.)
Unlike Android Wear connected to an Android phone, however, there's no real app ecosystem for iOS — and a very limited selection of watch faces available. (The watch faces included are indeed skeuomorphism gone wild, but in a good way.)
Hello, analog watch — meet digital world
Going a full day was no problem for me, even with the ambient display on and keeping brightness at level 3. I was still at 40 percent battery before I retired for the evening. Only a few asked if it was a new secret Apple Watch; most were fascinated by the simulated watch displays.
Notifications worked well. I had no problem getting used to Google Now (as opposed to Siri) for command and control, and for receiving information from multiple sources.
Overall, I liked the experience and would recommend it. It's very different from the Apple Watch in how it presents information and, of course, in the lack of an app ecosystem on iOS — as you might expect, it has great developer support for Android apps on Android phones. It's a solid offering and a good one for those who also need to live in an Android world.
Android Wear watches live at all price points, from $129 up to $1,500 for the TAG Heuer Connected. I can't speak to differences among all the offerings, but at $349, the Huawei looks to be at the sweet spot for price and quality.
One more thought
Using Android Wear with an iPhone raises an interesting question in my mind: Should Apple create some form of Apple Watch compatibility for Android users?
Apple resisted bringing iPod support to Windows for a long time, but there's little doubt in my mind that iTunes for Windows helped make iPod a success. iPhones (and iPads) still sell to many more Windows users than Mac users. Is Apple Watch a differentiator for iOS users... or could it be the next Trojan horse to bring a new generation of switchers on to the Apple platform?
If you could advise Apple, what would you tell them?