Wearing Android

I’m a gadget addict. I can’t help it. I have two rules when it comes to buying some new tech gadget:

  1. Does it seem like a cool idea?
  2. Is it relatively inexpensive that I won’t be too mad if it totally sucks.

Passing those two tests, a $229 watch that runs Android was a pretty easy decision to pick up and see what Google envisions as the future of my wrist.

I’m naturally fascinated by this area having backed a few different Kickstarter projects (of which only the Pebble has actually shipped). I wear my orange Pebble a few days a year, but ultimately its utility leaves much to be desired. Do I really need to see what song is playing on my wrist? Do I care that you just replied to my tweet? Not really.

Android Wear doesn’t do much to change that scenario for me, but it takes it to another level that shows at least some of where this stuff should theoretically go.

The key feature of my LG G Watch is being able to get notifications on my wrist rather than having to constantly futz with my Nexus 5. From there, I can do a few different actions.

  • My music app shows me the song and band playing (with album art). I can then pause or play the music.
  • Twitter lets me see my replies and even favorite or retweet them.
  • The Hangouts app, which I use both for internet messaging and SMS lets me also reply to messages by talking to my wrist.

And that’s where we get to the utility that I think is the nut of all this wrist candy.

Sensors, Not Notifications

Being able to tell my phone to do something by speaking commands at it has been a neat parlor trick since Siri and Google Now were introduced. The watch makes it easier to do that since you always have a microphone an arms length away. I rarely use Siri or Google Now to talk to my phone. It’s awkward and I feel almost as sleezy as the business guy who is talking loudly into his Bluetooth.

Having said that, there are some small conveniences such as “Set a Timer for 10 minutes” that I’ll occassionally do because it is truly faster than opening the Clock app, navigating to the right pain, and jimmying a bunch of different buttons.

Enough utility to make me want to always wear the unsexiest watch hardware ever made? Not really.

What does get me excited is having a ridiculous amount of sensors broadcasting and gathering data on me without having to always carry my phone around with me.

I wear a Fitbit to track my daily activity. I don’t have any sort of goals beyond wanting to get somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 steps a day to help remind myself that I’m not as big of a sloth as I sometimes think.

Android Wear has a step counter on it.

When I run or bike, I use Strava to track my mileage and paths so that I can measure my improvement over a period of time. When I’m actually running though, carrying my phone is a bit of a chore.

A wearable with a tiny GPS sensor? Sign me up.

I’ve had little luck with TouchID working. I’m convinced my thumb prints are so unreadable that I can commit crimes without worry of being caught. One of the new features in Android L is the ability to unlock your phone without any sort of passcode or fingerprint or whatever just by wearing the Android Wear watch. If the phone and watch are connected together, it assumes you are the one actually messing with the phone.

Sign me up for this.

Now extend that so that I can open my coworking office’s door without an HID card, adjust my Nest at home when I pull into the drive way, or start/stop my music when I leave the house.

There Is No Screen

To do pretty much all of the things I actually want to do with this thing on my wrist, I don’t need a big honking screen. I just need a lot of sensors. The same sensors that are in your phone, just crammed into a tiny bracelet.

I want to believe this is where Apple will take their wearables project, especially given how ‘connected’ these platforms seem to become with the addition of Auto and TV to their arsenal.

Of course, no one outside of a select few in Cupertino know what Apple has in mind, but if they want me to get truly excited about the future of wearables, lose the screen. Give me the sensors.

About Justin

Justin Williams is the Crew Chief of Second Gear, makers of Glassboard. He writes about consumer technology, running a bootstrapped software business, and more from Denver, Colorado.

Follow @justin on Twitter or get new articles via @carpeaqua.