Wearable technology is a trend that has this nerd very excited for 2014. Technology such as smart glasses and smartwatches raise very interesting possibilities for the future of information, context and communication. While health trackers such as the FitBit® and Nike+ Fuelband have been on the scene for some time now, the latest shots of the modern smartwatch battle were fired last year by Samsung with the release of the Galaxy Gear.
And last week, the wearable war really started to heat up; Google announced Android Wear, a version of its open-source mobile operating system designed specifically for wearable devices. In a series of promotional videos and third-party product announcements, the big G unveiled their vision of wearable technology to the world.
For me, two key points came out of last week’s swirl of Android™ wearable news. One, the focus on providing contextually relevant, easy-to-digest information will be the key to making a successful smartwatch. And two, we might finally be on the cusp of wearables that someone might actually want to wear.
Respecting the form factor
The key to making a smartwatch useful in the age of the smartphone and tablet is not trying to recreate a full mobile experience on your wrist. Even if the technology exists to make it possible, the form factor makes it needlessly difficult to deep-dive into applications and information. Think about how you use a regular watch. It’s a glance, a quick digestion of short pieces of information (read: the time), and then you move on. The first promotional video for Wear demonstrates some of these data types: a man on the bus glances at his transit directions, a woman in an airport gets flight details and scans her boarding pass, another man getting ready for work gets a quick traffic report, etc.
The most intriguing part of Google’s foray into wearables is that, as we’ve seen in Google Now, the company is arguably one of the only in the world that can pull off the level of contextual awareness necessary to make a smartwatch actually useful. Providing the right information to the right person at the right time, without forcing them to go and get it themselves, makes Android Wear a new technology to watch.
Is form finally meeting function?
The other exciting wearable news was the announcement of several actual Android Wear devices, most notably (for me) the Moto 360 by Motorola, a gorgeously designed smartwatch that looks, amazingly enough, like an actual watch. Obviously there are a lot of preferences and personal fashion styles out there, but for me, the trend of square smartwatches that look like the evolution of the Casio Calculator watches from the ‘80s doesn’t exactly encourage me to drop several hundred dollars on a new device.
For wearables, form and function are both requirements, not nice-to-haves. If you expect someone to wear something all day every day, it has to be stylish as well as useful. The Moto 360 is a signal that we’re finally getting there.
Are you itching to get your hands on a smartwatch after last week, or are you still skeptical? Let me know: @writerwin on Twitter.