Android Wear is the software and services from Google designed to run on a wide range of wearables, but launching first as watches. Android Central has just posted their LG G Watch review and Samsung Gear Live Review and... they're certainly a step forward in many ways. If the Pebble was the Palm V of smartwatches, maybe these are the Windows Mobile? And if so, does that mean the market is finally, painfully, mature enough for an iWatch?
Here's Phil Nickinson on the LG G Watch (or Gwatch):
We said at the beginning of this review that the G Watch could be considered merely a display for Android Wear, and that's pretty much the experience we've gotten. Does it set the bar for Android Wear devices? Not so much. Both the Samsung Gear Live and the upcoming Moto 360 are more stylish, and add a little extra functionality. But the G Watch does provide a pretty standard Android Wear experience, with a little more room for customization than the Gear Live — the more basic design allows for better integration of custom straps.
And Jerry Hildenbrand on the Samsung Gear Live (emphasis his):
Should you buy one? That's a tough question with a fairly easy answer. If you're not ready to use a platform with plenty of growing pains in store, pass on the Gear Live. Like every new product, things will only get better as it matures. I you do want to jump in at the beginning, other than the look of the hardware itself, there is not a lot of difference between the G Watch and the Gear Live. I enjoy using the Gear Live, and consider it a great addition to both my watch collection and a promising extension of my "smart" electronics experience.
It occurs to me there are four broad categories of functionality watches in specific seem well — and perhaps best? — suited to provide:
- Notification, so I can see what's happening on my phone without having to take it out of my pocket.
- Logging, so I can go out without my phone and still capture and quantify health and other data.
- Control, so I can adjust any home automation, entertainment, or other devices on my phone's network.
- Authentication, so that I can add something I have (the watch itself), along with something I know (password) and something I am (biometrics) to any security system capable of supporting it.
The phone remains the command ship to the watch shuttle in all of those cases simply because putting LTE or Wi-Fi on my wrist at this point would not only result in battery life measured in minutes instead of hours, but could also result in third degree burns.
Android Wear seems be tackling just these use cases, and in a far more locked-down way then we've ever seen from Google before. (There is, as far as I'm aware, no Android Open Source Project equivalent of Android Wear yet, meaning we won't see a flood of super-cheap, super-crappy "Android Wear"-like watches any time soon.)
Google Services, especially Google Now, play such an integral role in everything from presenting the interface to updating apps that, bereft of them, these watches would not only be less smart, they'd be dumber than dirt.
The only part Google isn't controlling appears to be the hardware, at least for now. Perhaps not surprisingly, that's where these watches really fail to excite. Perhaps we'll have to wait for the upcoming Moto 360 and its circular design to check that box, perhaps not.
Either way, these still don't feel like mainstream products to me. What they do feel like is the aforementioned Windows Mobile era products. Or Tablet PC. They feel like the early adopter, geek-centric, off-the-shelf products that typically presage Apple's entry into a market.
Which, in and of itself, is remarkable. It took almost a decade for smartphones and tablets to mature to the point where Apple felt like they understood the pain being experienced, and the problems that needed solving, enough to develop the iPhone and, later, the iPad. With wearables it's only been a couple of years.
Perhaps that's not entirely surprising. Wearables are standing on the shoulders of a giant mobile revolution. They're benefiting from the hardware, software, and services advances of the post-iPhone era.
What's clear is that there's tremendous room for Apple to innovate when it comes to design and manufacturing. What's less clear is where they go when it comes to software and services.
Apple has thus far deliberately stayed away from doing the kinds of server-side data processing on personal information that make things like Google Now possible. Will that change, so that Apple can offer more features on a wearable of their own? Or will Apple use privacy and security as a differentiator in the wearable space much as they've been using it in the phone and tablet space?
Will Apple try to address all possible wearable use cases, like Android Wear is doing, or will they cherry pick one or two? Will they focus on the premium end of the market, like they do with iPhones, or will they go broad like they did with iPods?
The iPods are Apple's original wearables, but are now non-iOS, non-iCloud devices in an iOS and iCloud world. Given what's coming in iOS 8, given technologies like Extensibility, Continuity, and more, there definitely feels like it's the right time for all of that to change, and in a very clever way.