Unlike Apple Watch OS, Android Wear is trying too hard to be a watch

It’s funny when you think about it, but sometimes the stupidest thing makes you see something in a whole new light. Watching WWDC’s keynote yesterday it dawned on me. Tim Cook was just showing off the latest watch faces that were added to the Apple Watch OS collection. Like, who gives a crap about stupid watch faces, right? And Toy Story? 2010 called – it wants its cartoons back, am I right? But watching Woody and Buzz and Jessie flopping all around the screen made me realize something.

Be better

Smartwatches aren’t watches. Well, ok they are watches, but they’re not just watches. They are so much more than watches. Then why does Android Wear spend so much time trying to pretend that it’s a watch? When you flip through the watch faces that are available by default on most smartwatches, you get a lot of dials and digital readouts and whatnot. But most of the time you don’t really come across a stuffed toy flopping around the screen, and why is that?

We’ve grown up knowing what watches are – they’re time pieces that, you know, tell time. Often there is other functionality from moon phase complications to Casio stopwatches – depending on your price range. But no watches are comprised of the kinds of screens we’re seeing on smartwatches. And maybe, just maybe, the prime difference between the Apple Watch and so many other Android Wear watches is that Apple recognizes the fact that we’re not all wearing watches on our wrists – we’re actually wearing miniature smartphones. And maybe, we should start acting like it.

Bring it on

This is a fundamental shift into how we view smartwatches. When you put into perspective – suddenly, having a square watch face is no big deal. Why shouldn’t small smart devices have small rectangular screens? Why do we spend so much time and effort into trying to display to the outside world that we’re wearing a watch instead of a smartwatch? Because that’s what we’re wearing. And Apple owns that fact.

One point that often comes up is that smartwatches “look funny” if they’re not round, or if they’re off, because all you have is a blank screen of your wrist. Well, why shouldn’t a smart device have a blank screen when it’s not in use? That’s what makes sense. When I go to bed, I turn the TV off, and at no time do I find it weird that I have a large blank rectangle in my family room. Why shouldn’t the same principle apply to my wrist?

And furthermore, why shouldn’t I have simple text blocks that tell me what my next appointment is, rather than a calendar icon in a circle and a time in hours? Why shouldn’t I have Google Now cards on the main screen with my time display? If we’re going to wear a smartwatch, let’s start emphasizing the smart rather than the watch.

Hold up

Now before you go on a tirade, let me explain that I understand there are likely tons of watch faces which will display that information for me much like an Apple Watch. But the point of this editorial is to get across two things –

  1. I’m talking about default options. The average user may not even know how to download other watch faces. I’m talking about out of the box functionality.
  2. Those separate watch faces don’t speak to the aesthetic values most Android Wear fans hold, meaning Round > Square, and always on > off/blank

In general, the Apple Watch doesn’t have those problems. They have been optimized to work the way Apple wants them to work, and what is clear is that Apple wants smartwatches to be smart first, watches second. Or, at the very least, Apple emphasizes “smart” just as much as “watch”.

Leaders and followers

Regardless, I wonder if perhaps Android Wear might have something to learn from the Apple Watch. Apple is leading the way in terms of smartwatch market share, and maybe this is why. It’s certainly something to think about. Android Wear picked a good market to try and emulate. Most designer watches are beautiful and expensive, so they’re good role models. But maybe they’re the wrongs things to emulate. Maybe we should accept the fact that our smartwatches are mostly smart, and by the way, they tell time too.

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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!