Android Wear: a smartwatch, not a step counter

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Today’s Google I/O Keynote left me a bit on the disappointed side. Sure, Android L looks pretty cool. Somehow the 3D interface is back after a two-year hiatus since everything needs to have depth, apparently. I must have missed that memo, but anyway. There were no new tablets and no new phones but there was an Android Wear smartwatch or three, which brings me to the point of this article.

One of the bright spots of the keynote was the official presentation of Android Wear and a real solid walkthrough of the interface and its capabilities. There weren’t a whole lot of surprises there. There were a few videos released back in March going over a lot of it. But to see it performing in demo fashion was rather cool. The fact that you can buy two of those watches today is a huge added bonus.

fuelband-hrSilver lining

The reason this was a bright spot in my mind was because I’d seen a disturbing trend in wearables of late. Fitness, fitness, fitness. All fitness, all the time. Even the iWatch rumors were circling around fitness. There was a lot of focus on fitness and basically nothing else when it came to wrist-riders of the future. Time, heartbeat, steps. Rinse. Repeat.

I was frankly getting a little nervous, and not just because I have what doctors like to call “a little bit of a weight problem”. I’m a pretty active cyclist – when it’s warm – as my instagram will show you, time and again. So, I’m not blind to the uses of fitness tracking and apps, etc. But a smartwatch can do so much more than tell time and count paces. A smartwatch can actually be incredibly useful in every day life, not just when you’re wearing too-short shorts with an embarrassing amount of sweat and body odor.

More than a counter

Android wear shows us that functionality with directions and notifications, and Google Now integration in a pretty small package – though exactly how small remains to be seen. This is almost the ideal that I’m searching for, though I admit, my perfect smartwatch doesn’t exist yet. If I were forced at gunpoint to buy one, I would probably chose an Android wear device, and then I would question the sanity of the person forcing me to buy a smartwatch with a firearm. Android wear gets a whole lot right in a world full of wrong.

Google sees potential in adding that second screen. It will not be, nor should it ever be, your primary screen. It’s supplementary. But it needs to be worth the supplement and the cost of ownership. Android wear brings a lot of that by making it an extension of your smartphone and your Google Now experience. As Taylor Martin commented yesterday, it’s like touchless control, but bolted to your wrist. While the imagery is a bit disturbing, the overall point is that it’s pretty freaking cool.

android-wear-heroA companion, not a tool

It’s largely because there is more potential to Android Wear than just being a beat and step counter. This can really become a part of your life if you’re willing to let it. A watch has always been a full time companion. You put it on first thing in the morning, and you set it down on the dresser every night. Between those times it’s with you. Fitness trackers are really only necessary when actually doing something fitness related. This is a category where most other wearables fail. A wearable should be something you want to…wait for it…wear. Crazy concept right?

The problem with wearables of the past is that wearing them when you weren’t using them was stupid and frankly made you look like a self-important weenie. You know the guy in your office that wears the Bluetooth headset all the time? You hate him right? Well you should, because he’s a self-important weenie. Google Glass is not meant to be worn all the time, especially in bars in the West coast. Where do you think the term “Glassholes” came from? Self-important weenies. But a watch, that’s just a timepiece man. It’s awesome, you’re awesome, we’re awesome.

A watch is a wearable that can be that companion, and that secondary screen. Sure taking a phone out of a pocket, or walking across the room to check a notification isn’t all that much of a chore, but when and if Android Wear catches on, it will seem like it.

PSA

So to all OEMs that are contemplating adding another fitness tracker to the world, just stop. Look at Android Wear, and create a companion, not a tool. Create something that your users will wear with them in the pool, or on a hike, or even when just sitting down to a nice steak dinner at the Sizzler. If you’re going to make a wearable, make something that people want to wear all the time, not just when they’re counting calories. With Android Wear, this is possible, and not only that, it’s pretty darn sweet.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!