Android Wear on iPhone: How it might happen and what it'll mean

On the face of it, it seems surprising — an unholy union of Apple and Android. The mere possibility of Android Wear support coming to the iPhone with the Apple Watch imminent raises several questions, not least how Apple might react to an Android-branded thing encroaching on its ecosystem. Will Cupertino block the companion app because it's Android Wear? Will the company throw up roadblocks simply because it's a competitor?

We'll examine these questions and more after the break. Read on.

Android Wear on iPhone

Google on Apple

Android Wear support for iOS, if it is close at hand, hasn't come out of the blue. Google has an extensive library of iPhone and iPad apps, maintained by a talented team of developers, and the company puts a lot of effort into making it as easy as possible for iOS users to live in the Google world. (A stark contrast to the situation on Windows Phone at present.) This includes apps like Gmail, Chrome and Maps, which compete with Apple's homegrown offerings, and even Google Voice — though only after a lengthy approval process that eventually dragged in the U.S. Department of Justice and the FCC.

Android Wear on iOS doesn't come out of nowhere — Google has had a strong iPhone presence for as long as there's been an iPhone.

A strong presence on the iPhone has been a priority for Google for as long as there's been an iPhone. As a result, it's well served by the current Android-iOS smartphone duopoly. iPhone-to-Android switchers are pushed in the direction of Google services by default. Android-to-iPhone switchers can move without going completely off the reservation. By the same token, Google would rather Android Wear owners didn't automatically junk their watches and go all Apple if they switched to an iPhone.

So in the grand scheme of Google software on Apple hardware, Android Wear support makes a lot of sense for the former. Unlike the Apple Watch, Android Wear is very much an extension of your smartphone rather than a computer unto itself. They're different products with different feature sets, and wildly divergent pricing structures. At the same time, if Google's going to dip its toe into the world of luxury watches, supporting the world's best-selling premium smartphone is a very logical step.

Google doesn't need privileged access to the OS to make most Android Wear features work, thanks to iOS 8. API hooks already exist to let wearables like Pebble to grab notifications, while Extensibility in iOS 8 would allow Google's iPhone apps to emulate Android features like replying to a Gmail message over voice on your watch.

Based on the report from The Verge, it sounds like that's exactly what Android Wear on iOS is doing —

As it does on Android, on the iPhone Android Wear also supports Google Now's ambient information cards, voice search, and other voice actions. It should also support some more advanced features with Google's own iOS apps, like replying to Gmail messages.

What's less clear is the question of third-party apps — just how closely would they be able to hook into a paired Android Wear device on iOS? It's unlikely Google would be able to recreate the deep integration offered at a platform level through Google Play Services on Android.

Apple Watch

Potential roadblocks

Apple surely won't be thrilled by the prospect of Android Wear landing on the iPhone right as its Watch starts to hit the market, but would it actively oppose such a move by rejecting the companion iPhone app? Assuming it was called "Android Wear," almost certainly. The App Store review guidelines state:

Apps or metadata that mentions the name of any other mobile platform will be rejected.

That means anything with "Android" in the name or description is out.

Google's aware of that, of course. And assuming it's not seeking to poke the bear by submitting a companion app called "Android Wear," it's likely a more neutral name will be chosen — something like "Google Wear" or "Wear Companion." The problem isn't that Android Wear runs Android — remember, so does Google Glass, which works with iOS — it's the presence of the Android brand in its name.

It's should be enough to skirt around both in the app description and the app itself without diminishing the Android Wear brand too much. That said, such a move would come at a time when Google's pushing the Android brand harder than ever before.

If Google is serious about getting Wear on iOS, you can bet they've thought through Android Wear's 'Android' problem.

But if Google is serious about getting Wear on iOS, it's likely it's thought this through, and that it's willing to make this small concession for the sake of opening up Wear to more users.

Apple won't welcome Google's wearable platform with open arms, but that doesn't mean it'll reject Wear out of hand, especially if Google plays by its rules and nixes "Android" from its App Store listing. That being the case, Wear would be just one more smartwatch platform supported by iOS, and on Android it could continue to exist as Android Wear.

And let's not forget that competition and choice for consumers is never a bad thing.

Google's working on Android Wear for iPhone

Crucial timing

The timing of today's news, on the eve of Apple Watch pre-order day, is surely no accident. What's more, if Android Wear support for iOS is a far along as the report suggests, it'll hit right around the time Apple Watch sales start to open up following the initial rush. The Google I/O developer conference in late May would be a likely timeframe for an official announcement — perhaps along with tools to let developers support Android Wear across both platforms. (Though that depends on just how far Google wants to go with Wear support on iOS.)

Though we've been hearing about its impending dominance for years, wearable technology remains in its infancy, and still nobody has really worked out what smartwatches are for yet. The Apple Watch alone promises to make 2015 a pivotal year for this emerging device category, though, and the possibility of Android Wear widening its audience with iOS support will only make things more interesting.

Many of the early Apple Watch reviews paint a picture of a revolutionary but slightly overwhelming product. Perhaps Google will be hoping that a more available, more accessible alternative will sway buyers in the months ahead. Either way, we'll be watching with interest. Stay tuned to Android Central and iMore for coverage from both sides.

Alex Dobie
  • Honestly, this is good. Not everyone can buy a 350 dollar Apple watch.
  • All Apple products are expensive. This is no different, really, but yeah having the option is nice, however I think if you like Apple products you expect to pay this much, otherwise you wouldn't have bought an iPhone
  • Shuffle was cheap. Sent from the iMore App
  • The iPhone is not any more than any other flagship phone.
  • I just felt out don't believe that there are folks out there that are totally fine with Google's $250 watch, but that will then balk at paying $350 for Apple's Watch. I've heard this argument a lot, but I think it's basically a straw man. It's only a hundred bucks. Take a date out to dinner and you've already spent more. Go to a single sporting event (by yourself!) and you've spent twice as much. If you can afford $250 you can afford $350. I understand that people don't like the price and I believe that Apple could and should do a lot more about making things more affordable, but to present this as a valid reason for buying the Google Watch over the Apple Watch has always seemed pretty thin to me.
  • Well, first off there is no Google watch... Google don't make any watches they sell a few, and they made an OS, but they haven't even branded a watch. Second, you can easily get a G watch for 150 US dollars... And a moto 360 for 200. While as far as I'm aware, the $350 mentioned is for the absolute base model of the iWatch. Besides, "only" a hundred bucks is still a hundred bucks... Is the iWatch actually $100 better than a 360? And the fact there is a hundred dollar difference in the first place completely defeats your assertion that it's a straw man argument, you can "it's only N amount of Starbucks" all you want, but that is not chump change. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Exactly. Android Wear watches can be as much as 50% cheaper than the Apple Watch. Moto 360's, hailed as one of the best Android watches out, its $179 on Amazon right now. That's a pretty big difference from $350 for the Apple Watch
  • Surprising? MS Band already works with iPhone. Why not Google? If this happens, I may just pick up an Android Wear piece to switch back and forth with my Band!
  • Not a bad idea. Get people hooked on a smart watch then when the time is right they will switch the Apple Watch. Only a few more hours till pre-order.
  • Amazing timing for the news! Looks like a net positive for iPhone owners. We get the choice of Apple Watch, Pebble, Android Wear, etc. Even more reason to have an iPhone as your mother ship — shuttle craft of your choice! Also, I might be wrong, but I think the "will Apple approve it?!" angle is sensationalized. Yeah, the name might need to be different, but Pebble app has been out a while. Not sure Apple cares about that stuff as much as they used to.
  • Pebble was also released years before the apple watch and doesnt nearly come as close to competing with the Apple watch as android wear will, with Google behind it. I find it hard pressed for a company to not 'care' about a competing platform releasing a compatible band for their devices when they are stepping foot into that same market.
  • That is my number one reason when people ask me why Apple. People think they are closed but you have the most flexibility. Apple can use Google and Microsoft products but neither of those two can use the others. Hope that makes since.
  • ? Theybare only 'flexible' because anti trust laws prevent them from blocking competitors apps and devices from their app store. If they were open there would be a version of apple watch for Microsoft and android, of which there is none. Competitors give users choice and thus THEY are the ones being more flexible to get your money
  • Sort of... If you want iMessage, the only choice is Apple Watch -- otherwise, regardless of companion apps, other platforms will be limited to SMS only :-(
  • Maybe the companion app will be able to "translate" some apple services?
  • Hey it is a little sensationized, but doesnt Alex work for Android Central? Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Yes, but I see his articles on several on several of the Mobile Nations sites
  • It seems like they would really have to rebrand if they were going to go this route though. Not only because of the confusing fact that "Android Wear" would be serviced by an App called "Google Wear" instead, but also because they wouldn't be allowed to even mention "Android Wear" in the description. How stupid would it be to have an app whose primary use is to connect with Android Watches that can't mention that fact in it's description? That's just asking for problems.
  • It is great to have more competition, but the Android Wear as of yet is a generation away from being great. The best Android Wear are needing a hardware update. They have software, battery, sizing, and hardware issues. But with that said, we can wait to the Apple Watch comes out to truly compare. There maybe the same issues, because of being a first generation product. Another issue for Android Wear is how it is marketed and sold. In most retailers you can't try it on, and it locked up in a display. The only Wear you may be able to touch is Samsung, because of their experience area in stores. In my opinion the Moto 360, Asus Zen, LG G watch R are the best of the bunch. What it is going to come down to is cost, usability, sizing. Wear is cheaper, maybe usabile enough for some people. Wear are styled and sized for Men, the smallest kind of Wear are sport band styled. And this is going to aid Apple in selling the Apple Watch. They come in a smaller size, it will have more style, and being Apple counts. Apple will market the Apple Watch better, will use their stores to show case, and they will sell more Apple Watches than Android Wear combined. But with this all said, smart watch is still niche product. Will people truly need one, in the first place. We will find out. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I am an avid user of Google services on. my iPhone. Probably that way from my Android days, but I now all in on Apple hardware. I believe the iPhone to be the best Google phone there is, even better than most Android phone. With that said I like the idea of Android Wear working on an iPhone. Using an Android Wear watch I could get native support to check email in the Gmail app, navigate using Google Maps, query Google Now, and listen to my Google Music which are all things I currently do on my iPhone today. The Apple Watch will always have an advantage on the iPhone because it belongs to the Apple ecosystem, but I am optimistic Android Wear will be able to become a respectable high functioning alternate device. Over the long run the services Google can bring to Android Wear are likely to be superior to anything Pebble and other smart watches can bring over a sustained period of time. Sent from the iMore App
  • Search for it on YouTube. It's already been done.... Limited use but works nonetheless. Trust me I use my gear live daily with my 6+
  • Android Wear for iOS seems sensible when looked from afar, but as soon as you start examining the details you quickly realize it's more trouble than it's worth.
    Yes, you would be able to receive notifications. It also seems likely you'll be able to reply to GMail with your voice. But it's unlikely you'll ever be able to reply to WhatsApp messages. And iMessage support? Forget about it. It's also unclear to me how you could install 3rd party watch apps and faces, especially paid ones. And, if you switch from iPhone to Android (or viceversa), would you have to repurchase them?
    It's all a gigantic mess. I don't think Google is working at this, or even interested in doing so.