A recent report suggested that Google has shipped – not sold – 720,000 Android Wear units since the devices first launched in mid-2014. That’s off to a better start than Pebble, which only recently shipped its 1 millionth smartwatch, but it still shows units aren’t exactly flying off of shelves just yet.
Apple has reportedly ordered more than 5 million Apple Watch units, for example, and plans to build as many as 1 million a month soon. We don’t know yet if Apple is going to find that kind of success, but if those reports of orders are true, it shows the company is certainly bullish on its prospects.
Despite what appears to be a slow start, Android Wear is still a pretty fantastic solution. It’s not perfect, though. The hardware is getting better slowly, certainly much better than when customers could only order the G Watch or the Gear Live, both of which aren’t as good as more recent entries into the space such as the G Watch R, the Moto 360 or, I’d even argue, the ASUS ZenWatch. Plus, the incoming LG Watch Urbane looks gorgeous.
I think Google can improve Android Wear a lot, and I have no doubt that it’s going to. Before it does, though, here are five ways I think Android Wear can and should be improved.
1. Battery Life
Android Wear battery life is pretty atrocious right now. I’m lucky, if I use a conservative watch face and keep the ambient mode off, to get through two full work days with the options that I have on my desk. That needs to change soon.
I’ve found, and so has other research, that I don’t actually end up wearing a smartwatch continually after it dies. There’s just some point along the way where I’m tired of charging it every night, or when I’m sick of it dying mid-day because I’ve installed an amazing watch face that looks great but drains the battery in a matter of hours (I won’t name names).
I don’t know how to save battery life, but maybe the Snapdragon 400 chip is overkill, or maybe manufacturers need to start considering other display options.
I’d love to see Android Wear get somewhere in the area of 5 days of battery life per charge, but maybe I’m dreaming too big.
2. Improve the user interface
Android Wear was pretty terrible when it first launched. Several updates later and it’s starting to get pretty solid, thanks to the ability to now store and play Google Play Music tracks from your device, and new third-party watch faces that are actually really great looking. Still, the software isn’t great.
There are plenty of times when Google fails to pick up my voice commands, even when I’m speaking right into the watch, and there’s too much digging and swiping to get to what I really want. Google could improve a lot of this by adding even more voice commands – and improving the responsiveness of that system.
Even adding small, but non-intrusive, hardware buttons to the sides of the device could make it easier to navigate up and down through software, instead of relying on touch on such a small screen all of the time.
3. Make wireless charging standard
It’s pretty annoying that a lot of the Android Wear devices have proprietary charging plates. Sure, you’ll have a microUSB cord that plugs into the plate, but if you lose the charging cradle you’re pretty much out of luck.
This just happened to me with a G Watch R unit, and while I was able to find a spare on Amazon for about $40, I wish it just took advantage of wireless charging in the first place. With the Moto 360, for example, if I ever lost the cradle I could just place it on any Qi charging plate.
I’d love to see Google mandate wireless charging for all Android Wear devices, or at least create a standard for the charging cradles that can be sold separately should they ever be misplaced.
4. Launch real apps
Most of what I’ve found available as “apps” for Android Wear are really just extensions of Android applications that are already available on the phone.
The Delta app might provide your boarding pass, for example, but you can’t use your watch to manage anything else. There are weather apps, sure, but they actually serve more as watch faces than standalone software services. Pebble, Apple and Samsung all have apps that will run on the watch itself, allowing you to do more right from your wrist.
I think Google should put more emphasis on developers to create apps that add more value, instead of notification-type alerts, to our watches.
5. Expand support to other operating systems
This won’t ever happen, at least I don’t think so, but I’d love to see Google expand support from only allowing Android users to take advantage of Android Wear, to adding support for Windows Phone, iOS and BlackBerry.
Maybe some of those systems won’t get full functionality in an effort to keep users moving to Android, but I think it could be a helpful way for Google and its partners to attract folks to Android Wear who otherwise can’t use it at all. Case in point: a friend’s father bought him a Moto 360, not knowing that it doesn’t work with my friend’s iPhone. He would have kept it, probably would have bought a few apps for it and more, but instead had to return it.
Plus, the prices of some Android Wear devices will undercut the Apple Watch, which is good for everyone.
I don’t have a complete solution for how Google can improve Android Wear, but I do have a few ideas where I think it can improve the experience pretty drastically, and how it can make it more attractive to all mobile users. Maybe we’ll see some of these tweaks made in the coming year, and maybe not, but I’m still very excited to see how Android Wear progresses through 2015 and beyond. Any changes you’d like to see?