Why Google Has the Best Shot at Making the Killer Smartwatch
By Kyle Vanhemert, Wired
Last week, Google unveiled its vision of the smartwatch, the elusive Next Big Gadget. It takes the form of Android Wear, a new version of the mobile operating system designed specifically for on-the-body devices. It’s a good deal more sophisticated than the smartwatches we’ve seen hitherto, relying on the company’s unparalleled voice recognition for registering simple commands and promising to serve up the “info and suggestions you need, right when you need them” thanks to the same predictive, personalized algorithms that power Google Now on Android phones.
Amid speculation that Apple’s long-fabled iWatch might in fact be a health-specific wristband, Android Wear is clearly aiming for something much bigger. And that makes sense. If there’s any company today that has a chance to make the multipurpose smartwatch we’ve all been dreaming of, it’s Google. But it’s not just heaps of data and algorithmic might that make Android Wear promising. It’s also Google’s approach to the endeavor—its willingness to let third-party developers deeper into the stack and, potentially, to let consumers define the experience for themselves—that could help make it a hit.
Context is king
Context is the Holy Grail of wearable devices. With the limited real estate of a watch face, knowing what app, service, prompt, or data point a person needs at a specific moment becomes paramount. The shiny promotional videos Google released this week show how context plays out in Android Wear in a number of situations. On the bus, your smartwatch might show you the next few stops; if there’s a meeting coming up, it’ll remind you who it’s with and offer directions for how to get there. The video suggests a few less obvious use cases, too. If your Android Wear watch feels itself shaking around and its microphone hears music, then it might figure out that you’re dancing and tell you what song is playing.
But context isn’t just about using sensors to intuit your environment and activity. It’s also about tying your scattered digital existence to your actual, physical self. It’s about looking at your calendar, your inbox, and your contacts in concert, cross-referencing them, and coming away with a more human understanding of your schedule, your to-do list, and your circle of friends. When it was released in 2004, Gmail did away with the hassle of organizing email by letting you search through your inbox. At its best, a contextually savvy operating system like Android Wear takes the next step, doing away with the hassle of search by surfacing the stuff you need automatically when you need it.