Android Wear two months later: what still needs work

My LG G Watch arrived on July seventh and got slapped on my wrist just moments later. Since then I’ve worn it, my Pebble, and the Moto 360. I’m convinced that my days with Pebble (at least in its current incarnation) are behind me. Android Wear is significantly more advanced, easier to use, more intuitive, and all around better looking – especially when referring to the Moto 360. Even still, and after more than one OTA update, Android Wear still needs work.

lg g watchWatch Faces

First and foremost, the watch faces that come with the G Watch aren’t that great. Sure, they get the job done, but they’re not nearly as polished as those that come pre-packaged on the Moto 360.

Plenty of third party watch faces are available in the Play Store, but Google previously asked that developers hold off on watch face creation for now. Why? The company is reportedly working on a watch face SDK that will be released after Android Wear is updated to “L”, sometime in mid-October (if reports hold true).

Now, however, watch faces may look good, but they all seem to have little idiosyncrasies that stick out and detract from the overall experience. Notifications get in the way and partially overlap text on the “dimmed” state of the face. “OK Google” appears at times and blocks part of the display. Watch faces designed for square devices don’t look good (or omit information) on round devices – and vice versa.

Once that SDK is released, and developers have some time to tweak their apps, I suspect we’ll see these issues go away. In the meantime, it’s the price we have to pay for being early adopters.

NFC & Google Wallet Integration

apple-pay-apple-watchAfter having seen how Apple will be integrating NFC and payments in its forthcoming Apple Watch, I found myself wondering why Google didn’t do anything like that with Google Wallet and Android Wear.

I use Google Wallet all the time, and find myself using it for storing payment cards and IDs with barcodes more than anything else. Even if Android Wear hardware doesn’t (yet) include NFC hardware to extend the Google Wallet “Tap to Pay” experience to your wrist (like Apple Watch promises to do), there’s no reason why Google Wallet couldn’t present a card that lets me use my payment barcode when I’m in the breakroom, for example. Eventually, paying with NFC would be an option for devices that include NFC hardware, but integration could still be implemented and exposed in a more limited fashion until then.

App Integration

wazeOver time, developers will integrate their apps with Android Wear. Now, however, it’s still very early, not a lot of people have a watch running Android Wear, and those who want one may not be able to buy the one they want because it’s out of stock. That having been said, there is simply no excuse for large app development teams to delay adding Android Wear integration.

Last week I worked as a Range Safety Officer at a location that required about an hour of driving each way. I’ve been to that location there many times before, so I don’t need Google Maps to tell me how to get there, but because it involves traversing surface streets, two Interstates, and one unlisted canyon road, I like to have Waze sitting in the co-pilot seat.

For those of you who don’t know, Waze is a GPS navigation app (like Google Maps) which integrates passive as well as active information collecting to share with others using the app who are driving the same roads you are. This enables you to share road hazards, inclement weather, construction areas, and even traffic speeds with those who will follow behind you – and the same information is available to you from those who traveled the road just before you did. I’ve been able to avoid many hazards, been alerted to adverse road conditions, and have been dynamically re-routed around slowdowns more times that I can say. It’s a great app! So great, in fact, that Google bought it.

That purchase was some time ago, well before Android Wear was released. Why then, is Google’s Waze app not integrated with Android Wear? I don’t get turn by turn directions on my wrist from Waze like a do from Google Maps, and I can’t report road hazards from my wrist. Not yet anyway.

I’m not trying to pick on Waze in particular, it’s not alone. Other apps are similarly situated. Support will likely come later.

moto-360-batteryBattery Life

I kept battery life for the end for what should be obvious reasons. Those of you wearing “traditional” wrist watches don’t have to worry about your battery for at least a year. My wife’s Citizen has a very small solar panel behind the hands that charges the very small battery. Until that battery literally “wears out”, she should never have to change it. And she hasn’t in several years.

My Pebble would easily last five days between charges, sometimes even an entire week.

My G Watch must be charged every night. It’s never once failed to get me through the day (even when flashing custom ROMs to it), but one night, when it didn’t get seated properly on its charging cradle, it didn’t last through the night and was dead when I awoke the next morning. Needless to say, this was more than inconvenient.

Watches, even smart ones, need to last at least a few days between charges. We won’t see widespread adoption until they do.

Obviously, Android Wear still needs work. The good news it that Google and its partners are working on it. If we were to compare this time in smartwatches to smartphones powered by Android, we’d be looking at the T-Mobile G1. It’s going to take some time before we get to the Galaxy S 5, HTC One M8, and Nexus 5 level of technological evolution.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.