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Summary:

There’s a number of smartwatch choices now available, but they all seem to be missing the mark. Instead of being an extension to our smartphones, a truly compelling smartwatch will provide contextual information just when you need it. Can you say Google Now?

Moto X Google Now

Maybe we have it all wrong about what makes a good smartwatch. Sure, it’s not a stretch to want notifications and caller ID from your phone on the watch. Perhaps some remote control functions to play music on the phone. Then there’s the time and some useful apps that could work on the small screen; heck, even Angry Birds has made a smartwatch appearance.

Angry Birds motoactv

After writing up news of the latest Google Now cards yesterday, however, I started to seriously rethink what I want in a smartwatch. Why? Because all of the functions listed above are available in one smartwatch or another. But none of them really seem to be more than an extension of the smartphone. Where’s the value outside of not having to pull out the smartphone in this case?

Cracking the code with context at a glance

Enter Google Now. I previously alluded to it being part of a potential Google smartwatch, but I’m starting to think it could actually be the core feature of a smartwatch unlike any other on the market today. The idea of having useful information “magically” appear at a glance is more appealing to me than email notifications, caller ID and other data already available in other places.

That may sound hypocritical because Google Now is also available on phones and tablets. And I use it on those devices. A better place for Google Now though may be on a glanceable display such as a smartwatch. Or on Google Glass, for that matter. The information in Google Now is more about the “here and now” and I can’t think of a better device for that than a watch that’s intelligent.

Imagine a smartwatch based on Google Now

Pretend such a watch exists. You’re walking around downtown when a reminder pops up because you’re near a food market. “Buy milk” your watch says. The watch knows you’re walking around and warns you of an upcoming weather change: Better get inside. Your next appointment pops up as a reminder, just in time for you attend. A little while later, the watch says “Your spouse just left work and will be home in 35 minutes” followed by a reminder to leave work a little early because there’s traffic on the way home. You get the idea.

Google Now2

Here’s the key: None of this useful information required you to input anything in the watch. And that’s one key element that’s a tough nut to crack when it comes to smartwatches: User input is difficult to accept on a small screen. Google Now doesn’t typically require user input because it gathers information from your Google data. Creepy, perhaps, but arguably useful.

Who else can provide such context?

There have certainly been successful smartwatches: Look at the Pebble, which raised more than $10 million on Kickstarter and is now available in Best Buy. And I still wear a Motorola MotoACTV, but more for the standalone exercise tracking features than for the smartphone notifications. But neither of those, nor any other smartwatch I can think of, provides contextual information.

To offer that, a company needs widespread information access at a very personal level. That rules out most startups and small companies, leaving the bigger players with cloud services as the best potential candidates. But as I noted yesterday when applying the same idea to wearable computers such as Google Glass, Google is perhaps the best positioned here because of the services and software it has.

I already thought Google had all the right pieces in place to create a killer smartwatch, but now I think the most important piece is the contextual one: Google Now.

  1. I totally agree w/you kevin on this one. I love Google Now and the idea of it being our “glanceable” OS overlay on a smartwatch. I personally loved the MotoActv and still believe it is the current smartwatch to beat even though most don’t consider it a smartwatch (even though it does run its own version of Android 2.3 i believe).

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  2. Ambient contextual information makes plenty of sense on the smartwatch and on Google Glass. In the future, it’s not difficult to imagine personalized contextual information being presented on ambient displays, based on our presence, in the places we live, work and play.

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  3. Interesting article that actually merges two of the thoughts in these blog posts. The idea that for a smartwatch to matter it needs to be helpful and deemed a necessity. And for services such as Google Now to work there needs to be a shift in manufacturers thinking about communication with different hardware (wearables) as well as developers and designers delivering software to make it easier for Google Now and wearables to communicate.

    http://twotoasters.com/ideas/2013/automation-interoperability-and-the-future-of-mobile/
    http://twotoasters.com/ideas/2013/the-smart-watch-needs-to-matter/

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  4. For automation and wearables to progress manufacturers, developers, designers, and even end users need to start pushing for the development of hardware and software that works together. This means developers have to begin to integrate and make it easier for automation like Google Now to communicate with their software, and device manufacturers have to design with the intention of intercommunication between device and wearables. Once we see greater interoperability I think wearables will be deemed a necessity by the majority market (like what the iPhone did for smartphones).

    In fact, we had a guest writer for our blog who touched on this idea in two separate posts:

    http://twotoasters.com/ideas/2013/the-smart-watch-needs-to-matter/
    http://twotoasters.com/ideas/2013/automation-interoperability-and-the-future-of-mobile/

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  5. You can set a pebble up to receive Google now notifications

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