All about Android wearables

Friday , June 27, 2014 - 9:13 AM

By LESLIE MEREDITH

Technology is shrinking. At Google's annual developers conference held in San Francisco last week, Google showed attendees — and millions of tech enthusiasts around the world who tuned in to the live stream — how a smartwatch fit into the Android family of devices. In Google's view, Android Wear is the key to your connected world, but only if your world consists of Android devices.

Smartwatches have been around for several years, but garnered real public interest when in 2012 Pebble raised more than $10 million on crowdfunding website Kickstarter. More than 68,000 backers pre-ordered the device. It was only a matter of time until Google or Apple seized an opportunity to make their own watches.

Google announced Android Wear earlier this year, but it wasn't until last week that the first three watches became available for preorder. The LG G will ship by Thursday for $229. Samsung's Gear Live will follow a few days later on July 8 for $199. Both of these watches have a square display that measures around 1.6 inches or about the size of a postage stamp and have 4GB of internal storage and 1.2Mhz processors. Motorola's Moto 360 won't be available until later this summer and it's the one that's received the most buzz — primarily because of its round vivid display that more closely resembles a jeweler's watch. However, no details on what's inside have yet been released.

The critical bit about Android Wear is you must have an Android phone for the watch to work. But 62 percent of U.S. smartphones run on Android, which means Google may have a captive market.

The big idea behind Android Wear, and an Apple device when it's released, is to provide essential, just-in-time information without reaching for a phone. Google said people glance at their phones an average of 125 times a day, and if you have teens in the house, you know this is probably a low figure. Of course, the watches tell time, but they can do a whole lot more. However, their capabilities are limited by the size of the screen — you won't be reading an ebook on your wrist.

Android Wear is all about glance-able information, such as recent messages, reminders, notes, music controls, alarms, your heart rate and a step counter. The information is organized into full-screen-sized cards that you can swipe through. To launch its information-gathering capabilities, you say "OK, Google" and then tell it what you want. What it can do will be limited only by the variety of apps made for the system.

Already, Lyft app users can say, "OK, Google, call me a car" and the app will schedule the ride, let you know when the car will arrive and let you pay the driver with a tap. Similarly, with the restaurant delivery app Eat24, you can order a pizza from your watch. And my favorite, All the Cooks, shows recipe steps one at a time on the watch face, which means no more cake batter-smeared phone for me.

Along with these smaller app developers, big name Pinterest has launched a new version of its pinboard app in Google Play that includes Android Wear integration. For instance, if you near a place you or a friend pinned to Pinterest, you'll see an alert on your watch as well as your phone. From there, you can get directions.



When you've had enough information, you can swipe down to put the watch into "do not disturb" mode, which will not only put your watch to sleep, but will prevent your phone from ringing as well.

Just because Google was first doesn't mean it will be the best. Apple has yet to reveal its device, which is rumored to be called iWatch and may be unveiled this October in time for the holiday shopping season. It may come in two sizes for men and women. Concept designs floating around the Internet range from Samsung Gear Live lookalikes to a bracelet with a flexible screen running around about a third of the device.

And unlike Android, it could operate independently from an iPhone. Apple has a winning track record of rethinking technology and pricing it higher than the competition. My advice? Don't buy a wearable until this device is released — only then will you be able to make a fair comparison.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past six years. She has designed and manages several international websites. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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