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Android Wear’s Contextual Awareness and Why I Might Finally Buy A Smartwatch

by Brandon Russell | March 18, 2014March 18, 2014 1:00 pm PDT

Moto 360 - Smartwatch - Press - Heros  - 005

I don’t wear a smartwatch, nor have I had any desire to (I’m the weirdo in the TechnoBuffalo staff that hasn’t bought one). The latest Pebble looks great, sure, what with its app store, and the Gear 2 is now even fancier. But why would I wear something that simply feeds me notifications, especially when, once I see that email or message come in, I’m just going to take my phone out anyway? It seems like a redundant middle man that exists for the sake of OH COOL FUTURISM. These smart watches don’t really offer an enormous benefit. Truth be told, they’re really not all that smart. Ok, so they pair with your smartphone, and they’re sometimes convenient. But what else?

I’m admittedly not the target demographic of the current litter. But the promise of Android’s smartwatch future may have convinced me, particularly if it’s powering Motorola’s Moto 360, which looks less like a smartwatch and more like a… watch. If the thing combines the beauty of Motorola’s design and the brains of Google Now, the smart watch revolution will well and truly have arrived. Finally. My aim isn’t to knock a device like the Pebble (or the Gear 2, or Gear 2 Neo), because they’re all beautiful and offer plenty of functionality. But none of them are even in the same league as what Android Wear has in store.

The exciting part about seeing Android Wear popup in smartwatches is that it takes the experience of Google Now—the alerts, cards, predictive intelligence, contextual awareness—and places it right on your wrist, which is much easier and faster to look at than taking a smartphone out of your pocket. I’ve longed maintained that Google Now is one of the best mobile services around, and bringing it to wearable devices will only make it stronger. Google perfectly demonstrates Android Wear’s basic capabilities in its announcement video: you can reply to a friend by only using your voice. Can you do that with your Pebble? A Jelly Fish alert has popped up now that you’re at the beach. That’s handy, and potentially life-saving. When was the last time your old Galaxy Gear warned you of potential danger?

Android Wear - Promo Video - Screenshot - Screencap - 006

And it goes like this throughout the video, showing users commute times, appointments, weather and more. The icing on the cake comes at the end. “Ok Google. Open garage.” Whoa. That’s a neat trick. Google has left Android Wear completely open, so developers can build experiences like these, and more. The same functions you’re used to performing on the smartphone in your pocket is being migrated over to a tiny wearable on your wrist. This isn’t like just being fed a message and then glancing at it. It’s not a stop gap to something greater. The future has arrived. The experience empowers users to take action while their smartphone remains where it belongs while on the move: in their pocket. You won’t have to fumble around to check when your next meeting is, or how long it’ll take to get to work. Just look down at your wrist.

Google explained that Android Wear was designed with an entirely new UI specifically for the smart watch form factor. Everything is based around voice and contextual information, and it’s completely reactive to your surroundings. That beach scenario was just one example. Depending on what developers dream up, the possibilities are endless. The purpose of Android Wear is to interpret the data around you, speak to your device, and then feed you the most relevant information, all while keeping everything “glanceable.” If it does its job, users will spend less time with their smartphone in their face, and more time existing in the present. That sounds much smarter than what’s available now. And if it’s stuffed inside a Moto 360, I wouldn’t mind using it at all.

The big thing when Android Wear smartwatches start hitting the market (aside from battery) will be price. The Moto 360 certainly looks expensive and premium, while LG’s will be placed toward the low-end. One of Samsung’s biggest mistakes last year was pricing its original Galaxy Gear at $299, but it’s hard to think of something like the Moto 360 being anything less than that. Hopefully companies can manage something much more competitive (maybe $199 for the Moto 360?), especially if smart watches are to become a mainstream attraction this year. And if the battery can last a week, then one of Pebble’s biggest strengths will be matched. In any case, the current crop of smartwatches are looking decidedly bland. I hope you haven’t made a Pebble purchase in the last week or two.


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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...


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