One sits on your wrist and one sits on your face. Both work really well with Google Now and other Google services but can also run third-party apps. One has a camera and one doesn’t. You can spend $199 or $1,500, depending on your choice.
I’m talking about Android Wear smartwatches and Google Glass if you haven’t guessed already. I’ve been using both: Google Glass for several months and Android Wear for just one week. Never have I seen such similar products — especially products developed largely by the same company — be so different when it comes to cost, potential success in the consumer market and social acceptance. This actually came up yesterday in a Google+ discussion, in fact. My friend Russell Holly, an excellent writer over at Geek.com, posted a picture of his Android phone connected to both devices — he too has been using Glass, and now Android Wear, extensively — saying he’s “Going to try and sort my feelings on this today.”
I agree that it’s a question worth asking: Does one need both Google Glass and Android Wear? The two aren’t mutually exclusive by any means but there’s a ton of redundancy. The biggest functional differences: where do you want to see important information — a screen on your wrist or a screen in front of your right eye? And do you need another camera? Otherwise, you’re generally getting the same information and services from both.
That thought, along with my one-week experience using Android Wear, explains my response to Holly on his Google+ post:
“Android Wear is definitely a subset of what Glass offers but at a fraction of the price. I think it has far more chance of mainstream success for that reason and because of the social acceptance of a watch vs. a wearable display/camera. I’m starting to think that Glass is really going to a be a vertical / enterprise tool for most; just ahead of its time.”
Holly followed up with a solid thought piece on Thursday that’s well worth the read. In it, he suggested the two products really shouldn’t be compared at all, mainly because there are some functions that will never be replicated across both products. More importantly, he said both are “flawed concepts aimed at the future.” I can agree with that statement as it pertains to Glass, but less so when it comes to Android Wear.
“For well over a year now, companies have been trying to convince us that the act of reaching into our pocket and unlocking our phones is too disruptive, and that we should spend a couple hundred dollars to solve this problem. At the same time, we’re being told that tracking our bodies using a series of sensors could make us more aware of how healthy or unhealthy our habits may be. Smartwatches seem to be the intersection of these technologies, and Android Wear wants to be the king of this fledgling category of devices.”
These are valid points: Simply moving our eyes from a screen on the phone that may be in our pocket to a screen on the wrist doesn’t sound earth-shattering by itself. But in actual usage, there is a social benefit. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there that is constantly interrupted by a buzzing phone with every tweet, Facebook update and email; particularly in social settings. Even with judicious notification management, short of completely disconnecting, a few beeps and vibrations get through.
This is where Android Wear — and other similar products — excel. It’s far quicker and less obtrusive to glance down at your wrist then it is to pull out or pick up a phone. In fact, I joked on Google+ yesterday that even with it’s early stage flaws, I can triage and archive email far faster on Android Wear than I ever could on a phone. Doing the same on Google Glass is at least as disruptive, if not more so, than managing messages on a phone.
I’ll have more to say about Android Wear when I’m ready to post a full review of the Samsung Gear Live I’ve been using for a week. I’ve held off on sharing thoughts mainly because the product Google handed out last week at its I/O developer event isn’t the product consumers will be purchasing next week. Software updates to the Android Wear companion app have been made and just last night, the first 24 Android Wear third-party apps were launched. Now is when the real reviews can begin for the full product.
But the question of how wearable computing is evolving and will shake out in the consumer market is worth asking now, particularly when we know more options are coming soon. Apple’s iWatch has long been rumored and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it debut with iOS 8 this fall; but I anticipate more of a wearable band that focuses just as much on health-monitoring. Microsoft too is expected to make a play for this market with a key difference: Instead of working with its own Windows Phone devices, Microsoft’s wearable band could work with iOS and Android devices.
Regardless, all of these similar products portend the wearable revolution now and in the near future. Google Glass and similar wearable displays seem far more like a potential future that may not pan out for some time in the consumer market, if at all.