Google I/O 2014 is still underway, but as we continue following it on the web and from our local Google office outside Boston, we’ve got some new info on the new crop of Android Wear devices that just can’t wait.
Google’s announcement included the exciting news that two new Android Wear smartwatches –both the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live– will go live for pre-order today (and also as the not-so-exciting news that we’re still going to have to wait a while for the Moto 360, but you can’t win ’em all). Rest assured, we’ve got our orders drafted and ready to send in, and we’ll bring you hands-on video as quick as we can upload it.
But we also got an in-depth guided tour of the UI on all of these new Android Wear devices from the live stream, and we thought we’d distill it down to a quick post for those not watching the feed and unable to join us for our Roundtable later this afternoon. So here’s how you’ll use Android Wear when (and if) you decide to pick up one of Google’s new watches!
Sure, we’ve seen smartwatch notifications for some time now. And Google’s implementation, as showcased on the LG G Watch at I/O, seems much the same: alerts that arrive on the smartphone appear on the watch, with the wearable’s “always on” screen preserving its full-color, full-illumination for moments when it’s raised to the face. Notifications dismissed on the watch (by the same side swipe we’re used to using on Android) will also be dismissed on the phone, eliminating an annoying bit of redundancy suffered by current smartwatch wearers.
Of course, Android Wear is more than notifications: it merges the concept of simple alerts for incoming messages with the more in-depth cards and predictive information offered by Google Now. The cards (newly spruced up with Android’s new Material Design aesthetic) display information from Google Now, apps running on the phone, and apps running directly on the smartwatch – from flight reminders to calendar appointments to traffic alerts to weather reports to pedometer readouts and beyond.
Vertical and horizontal scrolling
Navigating that ribbon of cards is predominantly a vertical affair, evoking the sense of Android L’s redesigned task switcher with an endless stack of cards flowing from bottom to top of the screen. Cards that offer more information will carry a page indicator: such cards allow for a horizontal swipe to reveal more details from that particular app or notification. That can be anything from a more detailed expansion of the weather report to a reveal of the music controls when using the watch as a media remote.
Probably the biggest differentiator Android Wear promises is the ability to control smartwatches with voice input, echoing the excellent Touchless Control we found to be one of the Moto X’s best features. While the watch display is active, uttering the phrase “Ok Google” will open the voice prompt, enabling commands ranging from “wake me up at 2pm” to “take a note: wake up earlier on weekdays” to “remind me to buy some Alka Seltzer when I’m near the Piggly Wiggly.” The voice prompt can also be used for a simple Google search, of course, and it can also be triggered by a tap on the display (a short one, that is; a long tap allows you to change the watch face).
Call and alert management
Calls can be taken or dismissed on Android Wear devices, but there’s expanded communication support here as well (as we see on Samsung’s Gear line). Calls can be dismissed with a custom text notification, or the phone can be placed in Do Not Disturb mode just by a long pull on the watch face.
Another carryover from earlier smartwatch implementations is native apps running right on the watch, alongside apps running on the phone that merely talk to it. “The very best apps,” said Android Director of Engineering David Singleton, “respond to the user’s context, put glanceable cards in the stream, and allow a user to take direct actions in just a few seconds.” Some of the more typical manifestations of this approach that Google showcased included a Pinterest app that lets you know when you’re near locations your friends have pinned. But even here Google has gone a little further: a sideways swipe displays the location on a map, and another opens the option to navigate right to it.
Google previewed what’s possible with Android Wear’s full SDK by showcasing a few apps at I/O 2014: Eat 24 is a GrubHub-like app that allowed Singleton to order a pizza in just about 20 seconds (and made us very hungry in the process). Allthecooks showed the feasibility of displaying quick and simple information snippets like recipes on the watch’s small screen, especially considering the watch’s water resistance – something all the initial Android Wear products will feature. And Lyft showcased an app for Wear that allows a user to perform all the steps necessary to order a car – from the initial hail to the driver review at the end.
When you’ll use it
As mentioned above, the Motorola, Samsung, and LG watches are just the first three wearables in this new series. With many more on the way (and the G Watch and Gear Live available for pre-order later today), thousands of developers both in attendance at I/O and watching from afar, and a refined user interface like what we’ve seen thus far, we’re very excited about the possibilities for Android Wear.
Are you? Leave a comment below letting us know your feelings on Google’s new wearable platform, and stay tuned for hands-ons, comparisons, and our full review coming in the hours, days, and weeks ahead!