Mobile technology is perpetually re-inventing itself. Beginning with smartphones, it scaled upward to encompass tablets and is now exploring form factors that include the best features of laptops and desktops. Wearable technology is yet another mostly unexplored niche, and Android Wear is set to bridge the gap between today’s offerings and tomorrow’s technologies.
Even though phones are small, they don’t integrate nearly as well into the ways we expect to use them. For instance, say we get a new email notification or Twitter reply. In order to determine what was said, we must first retrieve and unlock a phone or tablet. Often, the device’s notification area lacks the screen real-estate to render enough context to know all of what was said, much less respond meaningfully. Ultimately, interacting with the tweet or email requires significant disruption to our current routine–hardly the frictionless, highly-connected world that mobile technology envisions.
Android Wear’s Possibilities
Android Wear is set to change this. Most obviously, it does this by rendering notifications and context-sensitive information onto the face of a watch, or some other display that is more conveniently positioned without fumbling a phone. More significant interactions are performed on a phone or tablet, with which the Android Wear device is connected.
An Android Wear smart watch might display notifications of incoming calls or emails. A quick glance at the wrist is enough to know whether a call is important or should instead be sent to voicemail.
Android Wear also integrates with Google Now, Google’s search interface that provides passive information without the need to search for it first. Google Now offers a number of preferences that help it to suggest information most relevant to a user’s habits and choices. For instance, choosing a preference for public transit makes Now display bus schedules instead of car routes. Google Now’s cards, pieces of information relevant to a possible search, can be displayed on a watch or glasses such that the schedule for a preferred bus route might appear on one’s wrist as they are standing at the stop.
More Than Notifications
Android Wear devices are more than just another small screen for notifications. Depending on their form factors, each opens up a variety of possibilities to bring mobile app development into entirely new areas. For instance, a watch might incorporate heart rate sensors, making this data available to app developers. Access to this data opens up many rich possibilities for software integrations that would have previously been impossible without custom hardware and a more involved product development cycle.
Most obviously, fitness trackers will benefit significantly. Products like Fitbit can be designed entirely in software with no custom hardware. By lowering the bar to innovate in this space, Android Wear empowers small startups and side projects to compete in areas once only available to development shops with large budgets and access to fabrication facilities.
Android Wear also facilitates deeper health integrations in areas outside of fitness. Perhaps a heart rate monitor might detect when its wearer is becoming anxious to offer spoken suggestions or soothing soundscapes. Motion-sensing might notice long periods of stillness with a lowered heart rate, and could suggest taking breaks or walks to improve concentration and productivity. Without these integrations, irrelevant reminders become noisy and are eventually filtered out. But by interjecting useful information at just the right moment, Android Wear devices might prove to be an invaluable tool to enhance personal health and well-being.
Android Wear represents an exciting evolution for mobile technology. By making relevant information easier to notice, and with its integrations into wearers’ health, app developers can super-charge existing experiences and develop entirely new ones. Today’s early version surely leaves much untapped potential on the table, and it is exciting to consider what Google may have in store for this promising technology.