Google wants Android to take over the world and power everything. With its ability to be uniquely customized, it’s on track to do that. Android Wear is their new OS, a streamlined, lightweight version of Android for the “internet of things,” the new buzzword around products such as wearables – think smartwatches. The new software gives developers the ability to customize a version of Android that’s meant to be a snapshot of the bigger picture.
The smartwatch market got its first mainstream push with Samsung’s pathetic Galaxy Gear. The product, while a novel idea, was nothing more than an attempt to beat Apple to the market, which is rumored to be working on an iWatch. The Galaxy Gear ran a full version of Android; it was clunky and the reviews were pitiful. Samsung took the feedback to heart and their second iteration of the device is what should have been released the first time around. Only this time, it’s running Tizen, not Android. And that’s a different story for another time.
With Android Wear, Google is putting their services in the hands of developers in a form factor that’s expected to be the next big area of growth: wearables. Google Now is at the heart of Android Wear, as providing context is key – and that’s what Google is so good at. Have a flight coming up soon? Look at your wrist and check the details. How’s traffic on the ride home? A quick glance and you’ll see traffic details. At least this is how Google has promoted the software in their launch video. It’ll be up to developers to broaden its use and manufacturers to find the right hardware that consumers desire, which won’t be an easy task given some of the designs that have appeared on the market.
The Android Wear UI is based on two core functions: “suggest” and “demand.” Suggest is the term Google uses for all the notification cards that make up the watch’s “context stream.” These could include urgent notifications, like text messages, that buzz your wrist when they come in, or morsels of data that get silently added to your stack, like scores of sports games.
But these aren’t “notifications” in the smartphone sense–hollering flags that pull you back into a third-party app. On the watch, they serve as the apps themselves. Google lays out strict guidelines for how these should work: “Omit needless text from your notifications. Design for glance-ability, not reading. Use words and phrases, not sentences. Show, don’t tell: Where possible use simple icons, glyphs, and visualizations to convey your message.”
The “internet of things” and wearables market is in its infancy. It’s going to take a company like Google or Apple to jumpstart the market. Android Wear is going to push this market significantly forward, but there needs to be a good dose of marketing and public relations to get an individual product enough attention. Can Google do that? Their track record has not been great in hardware. Apple on the other hand…iPod, iPhone and iPad. These products all came from existing categories – Apple just worked in silence until they achieved what they felt was perfection and revolutionized a product category, one at a time. I anticipate they’re working in secret on a health-focused device that will be far different than what the rumors are painting.
A big name player needs to get into the wearables game, and Google just gave this nascent market a major opportunity.