Google Wants To Give You What You Need, Right On Your Wrist

In a post–Apple Watch world, Google wants to make Android Wear devices even easier to use.

The war to put wearable technology on your wrist will likely be won by the device that gives you useful information quickly, effortlessly, and without driving you crazy. Changes coming to Android Wear make a case for why Google's smartwatch operating system platform does the job best — perhaps even better than the Apple Watch.

There are now some 1,500 custom watch faces and 4,000 Android Wear apps, Google revealed during its annual I/O developers conference today. And the company claims some of those apps are getting better at using device motion sensors, location, and other data points to guide you through life. Imagine, upon entering a new restaurant, that your watch suggests what to order. Soon you may be able to see a real-time countdown of your train's arrival, or order an Uber by saying, "OK Google, call a car," into your wrist.

Those app capabilities, announced last month, will roll out in the next few weeks to all seven Android Wear watches in an attempt to enhance their appeal, especially their ease of use, in a post–Apple Watch world. "Checking the time is pretty cool," David Singleton, director of Android Wear, told the audience at Google's developers conference. "You can just look at your wrist, get the information you need, and make decisions in fractions of a second. It's glanceable, actionable, and effortless. And that's the cornerstone for what we think of all interactions with Android Wear."

Compared to the Apple Watch, features can be accessed with fewer gestures: Flick your wrist to scroll through notifications, for example, and tap the screen once to start apps and send messages.

Perhaps more importantly, almost all the Android Wear watches have since last year included an "always-on" screen — which means that, unlike the Apple Watch, you don't have to swipe or shake your wrist to see the time. Soon, Android Wear apps will also have the option to be "always on" rather than disappear. To save battery life, the screen will appear in full color when you look at it, but revert to black-and-white the rest of the time. (A Google spokesperson declined to provide hard numbers on how such changes affect battery life, saying it varies depending on the device and usage.)

Another obstacle that Google is trying to overcome: getting rid of the smartphone that traditionally provides the internet connection for smartwatches. One criticism of the Apple Watch has been that the device must be within 30 feet of an associated iPhone for all its features to operate. Android Wear devices aren't quite as restricted; they can operate on Wi-Fi as long as the accompanying phone, wherever it is, has a data connection.

That's not to say that Android Wear watches are 100% convenient — but they are taking steps to get there. Sketch something, for example, and the watch will convert it into an emoji.

And newly announced Google Fit updates for Android Wear, which are expected to launch over the next few weeks, will enable the device sensors to automatically count sit-ups, push-ups, and squats — in much the same way that Google Fit on Android captures your runs, walks, and bike rides on smartphones. It will also offer daily exercise goals calibrated to experience level, Allyson Gale, a product manager for Google Fit apps, told BuzzFeed News.

No matter how powerful a watch is, it becomes even more so when it taps into a larger universe of wirelessly connected objects. Google is working on just such an ecosystem. Possibilities, Singleton told the audience, include using Android Wear devices to check the battery in a Ford car, control music on Spotify, or adjust living room temperature via a Nest thermostat.

Control the world by checking your watch? Google wants to make it happen.

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