Android Wear watches get reviewed, are they painful enough for an iWatch yet?

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.

Check out the LG G Watch review and Samsung Gear Live Review and then let me know — What would you like to see from an iWatch, but similar and different?

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Android Wear watches get reviewed, are they painful enough for an iWatch yet?

18 Comments

If you own a Samsung device that is the phone to buy. I like the idea of the touch screen to operate the watch. The Pebble is controlled by the side buttons. If you own both Samsung and 5S, the watch to buy to save money is the Pebble seeing how you can use it on both OS. The Samsung Gear is so much more user friendly then the Pebble, you can do just about everything with it. I'm really interested to see what Apple brings to the table, this year should be the year for allot of new hardware, very exciting for me being fairly new to IOS. Hoping for a 4.7 inch iPhone 6 with big power and 128gb of int storage just like my ipad mini has. That would be a freaken beast.

I have a feeling the Apple wearable will be high-end (due to who Apple has hired) and not run any apps (since the developer conference is already over)

To be fair the APIs required could be a bullet point or their own press release. There would have to be something unless apple decides to implement something like notification listening on the lockscreen to pull data to the watch but then again this may disrupt their enterprise ambitions with the privacy outcries that would cause.

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So far most of the reviews I've seen says the software is really good and the hardware is so so. Were still a year or two off from being able to slim the watch down a bit.

I don't want one. I don't care who makes it. A smart watch just doesn't appeal to me and thats bad cause everything tech appeals to me.

Yeah, I'm just not seeing a use case for me yet. Until someone can add an experience I just can't get via phone alone I'm only interested in the "watch" as a novel gadget and not a piece of tech that adds to my life. Bottom line: wouldn't buy.

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I doubt Apple would ship a generic notification / logging / control / authentication "iWatch." It would need to have advanced technology of some kind (probably Siri). It would also need to be made of premium materials (probably synthetic sapphire).

And, perhaps most importantly, it would need attractive high-end style to justify a higher price than the generic bunch. Apple doesn't do Timex. Apple does Movado.

If in 4 years Apple can't get on board voice processing into iPhones and iPads, their is little hope they can satisfactory voice experience into a watch form factor - the latency will be jarring.

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They come off more like the Palm Foleo than Palm V. In it's day the Palm V was an excellent device. The Foleo, well the nickname Foolio says it all. But hey, don't let my opinion deter you - feel free to go full geek and get one of these devices.

"off-the-shelf products that typically presage Apple's entry into a market." Pretty confident here about a new product from Apple here Ei? What makes you think they can solve the puzzle of wearables? Geez, you guys are too optimistic. It's not like Apple didn't have failure products.

Smartwatch functionality needs to be limited, at the bare minimum so the battery can last a few days. It also needs to be more stylish to appeal to more than the ultra-geek. That’s why I think Apple will start with a few key functions, while insisting on minimum battery life & a physical design attractive to the average consumer.

Authentication/identity (paired with TouchID) would be the killer differentiator. Many rumors hint at health-related sensors, so that will likely be among the first functions to be included. Typical watch functions like time and alarm/reminders (set on another iOS device) are also useful, but not essential.

Sleek, light, stylish, 5-day battery life, a few key functions and sub-$300 price? Easily a $billion product in the first quarter, leaving Samsung and others scrambling to try and copy. It’ll be tougher this time around if TouchID is involved.

What is there to copy really? There's nothing Apple, or any other company honestly, can throw on a smartwatch (that's sensible) that will really make them stand out at this point.

Stylish? The Moto 360 has that, and to a smaller degree, Pebble Steel. Can Apple or another make one that looks "better?" Sure, but I doubt that's a "feature" that Samsung and others aren't aware of. I'm sure they see all the articles about folks waiting for 360 instead of their watches.

The few features angle is covered by Pebble. That is the benchmark of a smartwatch that does just enough. And, as mentioned above, looks good doing it.

As for battery life...we will never have a 5 day life. Battery tech (for all the sadness in the world) has not got that far. Unless you put the BARE minimum into one, it could never reach 5 day. But with the base of what you mentioned, that would require some power.

But the main point, the BIG main point is that all of these watches will do the same in some degree. And, sadly, they'll be locked down to the platform (the main players, not the outside players like Pebble). So what it will really boil down to for Android Wear vs iWatch is what platform you use (or use the most for multiplatform users). And that effectively makes sure that the success (or failure) of Wear/iWatch will not affect each other. Apple could come out with the best looking and operating watch ever. But all the Wear makers will have to worry about is the other Wear makers.

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The authentication/identity function will be difficult for Android Wear or Pebble to copy. There are rumors that Apple is having trouble with the 5 day battery life goal, so they're probably shaving functions to somehow get there. Of course all of this is pure speculation.

My main point is that Apple is unlikely to reveal a variation of what we've already seen from Pebble, LG, Samsung, etc. It will be substantially different and the other companies will quickly adjust to Apple's product.

The Withings Activité is headed in the right direction of minimalism. Add the authentication function while retaining the 1 year battery life and it would appeal to many more than the current crop of smartwatches. But I suspect Apple wants at least a minimal display and thinks people are willing to recharge every few days for more functionality.

I agree there will be plenty of smartwatches on the market in the coming years. Competition and choice is great for consumers. It'll be interesting to see how things develop.

I think these are the iPhone 1: great looking software but clearly not great, technically, but clearly the future (shape may change). Mine will be here tomorrow (Dev device; my favorite excuse) so we'll see.

I love seeing Google excerpt so much effort in locking down UI changes. It only makes sense for Wear and helps consumers tremendously.

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From what I've seen, I don't believe iOS' notification APIs are even ready for the smartwatch yet. Unless something drastically changes in iOS 9, I seriously doubt Apple would be releasing a smart watch this year or even next year. Apple doesn't have the equivalent of Android Wear (no iOS isn't it). And there was no indication at WWDC of a wearable platform for developers. I seriously doubt the rumours of an iWatch. A fitness band, maybe. A wearable computing platform ala Google Glass or Android Wear, nope.