I ordered myself the G Watch smartwatch the very first day it was made available. Perhaps I was still starry eyed from the Google I/O presentations, which seemed to suggest this was some sort of revolutionary sort of new gadget that would help me navigate the city, order food, hail a taxi cab and more. Or maybe I just had my regular weekly rush of gadget lust. Either way, I didn’t think much about it, and the minute orders opened up on Google Play I picked up a G Watch smarwatch (I went in blind, choosing this model only because it had the larger battery than the Gear Live), and chose overnight delivery.
I was on vacation last week, so I finally received the G Watch smartwatch on Thursday afternoon, well after other reviewers had the time to play with the device. I’ve been wearing it since then, and I already wish I hadn’t bought it. I’m not going to sell it yet, and I’ll explain why, but there’s no real purpose for these devices to exist just yet, save for developers who are going to write apps for them. Of course, Google doesn’t really position this as a developer-only platform, as it does with its Google Glass Explorer program, and instead is making the devices widely available, including in retail outlets like Best Buy.
Consider this my warning to you, the consumer: Android Wear isn’t “there” yet – wherever “there” is.
The Apps Lack Uniformity
My biggest problem lies with the application situation. I know Google doesn’t want us using full-blown apps on our wrists like we would on a smartphone. Instead, Android Wear is supposed to be complementary, delivering information only when we need it, and making advanced tasks more simple. Except, I think part of the popularity of the Pebble smartwatch is that you actually can use a full array of applications. You can view full maps, open apps to check the latest sports scores, check-in on Foursquare and more.
Sure, you can check the latest baseball score with an Android Wear smartwatch, but you need to use your voice. Android Wear will let you know you’re near a spot to check-in on Foursquare, but you can’t actually execute the check-in task from your wrist. Directions are lame, and while there should no doubt be a way to eventually see a full map on your wrist, you can’t right now.
The applications all have such different functions that I don’t even know how to interact with them.
Lyft lets you order a car if you want, though you need to use your voice to open it, and the app crashes when you’re outside of a Lyft market – instead of telling you that’s the problem. Allthecooks is awesome for recipes, but you first have to open the app on your phone and then send the recipe down to your smartwatch. I installed The Guardian app assuming I might be able to browse headlines, except all that does is send breaking news alerts to my wrist, which also already come in from existing apps on my Android smartphone. In other words, I don’t know why some of these applications exist, and there’s no uniform use case. I still haven’t figured out how to easily use Eat24 to order food without using the third-party Wear Mini launcher. Shouldn’t the voice command “order food” work? It doesn’t. When I say “start Eat24,” Google thinks I’m saying “start B24” and doesn’t do anything.
On Pebble and competing platforms things are a bit different. I’ve never been confused by what an application will offer because it has its own standalone app store – apps that are specifically written only for the Pebble. There’s a “Top Apps for Android Wear” option inside the Android Wear application, but these are full-blown Android apps with added support for Android Wear, not just Android Wear apps.
The Battery Life is a Joke
I can’t figure out why Android Wear needs a Snapdragon 400 processor just to deliver recipes, images of my boarding pass and incorrect details on the number of steps I’ve taken each day. I have a feeling the power it consumes, in addition to the color display, relate to the terrible battery life.
Without lasting more than a full day, how can these devices possibly cater to the mainstream market? In a report from Nielsen back in March, the research firm found that 64 percent of wearable users put the utmost importance on battery life. The two Android Wear devices on the market right now have among the worst battery life of any other wearable device, save for the original Galaxy Gear.
The same report also found that the $200 – $300 price range is still too expensive for mainstream consumers, yet both watches are priced in that range and the Moto 360 is expected to cost even more. Clearly this is a product that, while sold in mainstream outlets, isn’t actually meant for those kind of shoppers.
Android Wear Needs to Be About Convenience
I hope that this is just a problem that will be solved by a brilliant developer who finally shows me why I should actually “wear” an Android Wear device. Right now, the situation kind of reminds me of when Android was brand new, and there weren’t any compelling Android apps to use just yet, so it may just take time.
I guess I just don’t understand the purpose. Most Hangout notifications, probably the main reason I wanted Android Wear, don’t arrive on time. Even the apps that are good, like Allthecooks, don’t let me open the saved recipes direct from my wrist without digging through menus or using my voice – the whole process is quicker from my phone and full-fledged Android apps. Google Now works, kind of, but the information hasn’t been useful to me in the five days I’ve been wearing the G Watch.
Android Wear should be more about convenience and ease-of-use out of the box. I want to be able to open a launcher, choose Uber, and tap “get me a ride.” I don’t want to use my voice – why risk it mishearing what I’m trying to do? Plus, that’s freaking weird in public. Right now, I wouldn’t even try to ask my G Watch for a ride – I’d just pick up my phone and use one of the real Android apps to do so, and that defeats the entire purpose.
Finally, again, there needs to be a uniformity, an expectation for the end user when it comes to the applications that one downloads. Instead, there’s this weird balance between applications that only send notifications and applications that you can actually interact with, but only if you know the right voice commands or how to use them. Some are just regular Android Apps with no real purpose.
I know Android Wear is still young and that it’s going to take time for developers who already make Android apps to figure out what to do with the platform, but I don’t think this is ready for mainstream consumers.
Android Wear isn’t only going to be confusing for regular Joe who shops at Best Buy, because even a tech enthusiast and early adopter like myself sees massive holes in the software. I can’t imagine what would happen if my parents tried to use this.
If I were you, I’d avoid the same mistake I made. Sit it out. resist the urge to buy a new gadget, and see what kind of apps come down the pipeline. Maybe Motorola has something special planned with the Moto 360 that will change things up a bit, but for now the whole platform feels like something that was cooked up in months.
I expect more from Google.