TIME Gadgets

You Can Now Use Pac-Man As Your Android Watch Face

Google Dozens of custom Android Wear watch faces will soon be available for download on the Google Play store.

Users can now download custom watches from the Google Play store

Months ahead of the Apple Watch’s launch, Google is making moves to diversify the smartwatches of its own.

A new software update will allow Android Wear users to download and install custom watch faces from the Google Play store, Google announced Wednesday. Android Wear is Google’s software that powers several smartwatches already on the market, including Motorola’s Moto 360 and LG’s G Watch R.

Designs based on brands as varied as Porsche, Pac-Man and Rebecca Minkoff will now be available to give each user’s watch its own look. The faces will be functionally distinct as well, with some presenting additional data such as weather forecasts, altitude readings and calendar information.

There will be 46 new faces available at launch. That number should increase quickly, however, as Google is also releasing a Watch Face API that will let developers create custom faces and offer them on the Google Play store for free or for a fee. A new Android Wear companion app will let users easily download and switch between faces.

This focus on “increased diversity,” as Android Wear product manager Jeff Chang puts it, echoes a recent “be together, not the same” marketing campaign Google launched for the Android brand as a not-too-subtle dig at Apple’s uniform gadgets. There are currently six different Android Wear devices on the market, with more in the works.

“We want to enable users to have a lot of hardware choices,” Chang says. “That’s what we’re focused on. Letting people wear what they want.”

Chang wouldn’t disclose any sales figures for the Android Wear devices, but a recent report by research firm Canalys estimated that Motorola’s Moto 360 is the best-performing of the bunch, selling around 750,000 units during the third quarter of 2014.

In addition to custom watch faces, the new update brings some functional improvements to Android Wear. Recently used apps will now appear on the watch face, and users will more easily be able to bring back info cards they accidentally dismiss from the screen. There are also some new lighting modes for different situations, including a theater mode that keeps the screen off while you’re at the movies and a sunlight mode that temporarily boosts maximum screen brightness.

Users will also be able to customize the app notifications that appear on the watch if the device is paired with an Android phone running the new Android Lollipop operating system.

The updates will hit Android Wear devices over the coming week.

TIME Wearables

Android Wear Face-Off: LG G Watch vs. Samsung Gear Live

Jared Newman for TIME LG's G Watch (left) and Samsung's Gear Live (right)

How to pick a smartwatch if you're one of Android Wear's earliest adopters.

Let’s say you plan to ignore the advice of most reviews and buy an Android Wear smartwatch right now. Even though more stylish designs are on the way, you’ve got money to spend and want to see what the fuss is about.

How do you choose between Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G Watch? After using each one over the last couple of weeks, I think it’s pretty easy to decide. But first, let’s go through the pros and cons of each watch:


You won’t win a lot of style points for either watch, as they are both thick, square slabs that take up a lot of space across the wrist. In fact, if you hold them next to each other, the watch bodies, bezels and screens are almost exactly the same size.

Where Samsung’s Gear Live stands out, though, is the use of metal around the body and on the clasp under your wrist. The watch band also appears thinner due to its tapered edges, and the snap-in mechanism is less bulky than the G Watch’s more traditional buckle. The Gear Live is a bit gaudier, but it also makes a statement. That’s more my style, given that neither watch is understated to begin with.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live


The Gear Live and G Watch have almost exactly the same features, as they are required to run the same Android Wear software. Samsung does include a heart rate monitor, but I had trouble getting consistent readings and question whether this is a useful feature anyway. (If you can check your own pulse, you can just as easily measure it with the basic stopwatch function on either watch.)

The G Watch’s best feature, oddly enough, is its selection of watch faces. It has a lot of sharp-looking ones that Samsung doesn’t, and while this will become less of an issue as more third-party watch faces hit the Google Play Store, it’s nice to have some quality faces out of the box.

Advantage: LG G Watch, slightly

Jared Newman for TIME


As I mentioned above, the Samsung Gear Live’s watch band has a couple of pins on the end, which you snap into any two holes further up the band. The G Watch has a standard buckle that keeps the watch securely fastened, along with a loop of plastic for holding down the excess strap material.

I found the Gear Live’s band to be more comfortable overall, with ridges on the inside that let your wrist breathe a bit, and it’s nice not to have any excess material to deal with. By comparison, the G Watch’s flat, rubberized band seemed to make my wrist feel sticky and sweaty before long. Both watches do have removable straps, at least.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live

Battery and Charging

This one isn’t even close. Not only does LG’s G Watch have a larger battery, it also has a better charging cradle that you can just drop the watch onto at night. It’s much more convenient than the Samsung Gear Live’s charging pod, which needs to be snapped onto the underside of the watch in a particular way.

You’ll likely want to charge either watch every night, which actually isn’t a big deal once you get in the habit. (In a way, it’s better than having to charge every few days, because the nightly charge becomes routine.) But the need for a nightly top-up makes a convenient charging mechanism all the more important.

Advantage: LG G Watch

Jared Newman for TIME

Display Quality

In theory, the 320-by-320 resolution AMOLED panel on Samsung’s Gear Live should be the winner over LG’s 280-by-280 LCD screen, as it provides sharper images and better viewing angles.

But the G Watch does have one advantage in its outdoor readability. While neither watch performs well in direct sunlight, LG’s watch does a slightly better job of fending off the sun’s glare at full brightness. It’s not a big enough difference to beat the Gear Live’s display overall, but it does make the displays closer in quality than they look on paper.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live, slightly


Style and comfort are extremely important to me considering this is something I have to wear every day, and the Gear Live’s advantages in those areas outweigh its pesky charger and inferior watch faces. (If I was buying one myself, the Gear Live’s $199 price tag compared to $229 for the LG G Watch wouldn’t hurt.)

LG’s G Watch is still worth considering for some users, especially those who plan to swap in their own straps. But I’m not going that route, so the Samsung Gear Live will be my go-to smartwatch as I continue to get a feel for Android Wear.

TIME Gadgets

Too Many Android Wear Apps Are Missing the Point

Jared Newman for TIME

Watered-down smartphone apps are spreading like weeds on Google's new wearable platform.

If you want an example of everything wrong with smartwatch apps right now, just look at all the Android Wear calculators.

I currently count four calculator apps for Google’s wearable platform, and they’re all useless. You need pinpoint touch precision to enter each number, and none of the apps include a backspace key for when you inevitably mistype something. Using a calculator app on your phone would be faster and less frustrating.

These unnecessary calculator apps underscore the biggest challenge for Android Wear–and for that matter, all smartwatches–right now: Most people are happy to just take out their smartphones, so there’s little need for a watch that tries to do all the same things on a smaller screen.

For smartwatches to make sense, they need to go beyond what a phone can do on its own. That idea seems lost on developers who are creating weak imitations of existing smartphone apps, including games, drawing apps, flashlights and calendars.

Google has tried to discourage these kinds of apps, both in its documentation (“inputs requiring fine-grained motor skills are avoided”) and through Wear’s interface, which deliberately makes smartphone-like apps difficult to launch. But developers are undeterred. In fact, someone has even come out with a third-party app launcher for Wear that seems likely to encourage more bad behavior.

Even some of the highlighted Android Wear apps in the Google Play Store miss the point: Why would anyone want to browse Tinder on a smartwatch, when the smartphone version offers a better experience? How often are you really going to ask the Eat24 app for delivery when you can only get exactly what you’ve ordered in the past?

To make the case for smartwatches, developers need to think more critically about the apps they’re building. To that end, I think it might help to consider a few basic questions:

  • Does the app provide a useful service in specific situations where taking out a phone is impractical?
  • Does the watch show users something important that they’d miss if they didn’t take out their phones in time?
  • Does the watch app save significant time without sacrificing significant functionality?

Android Wear does have a handful of apps that answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, and app makers should take inspiration from these good examples.

Last weekend, for instance, I played a round of golf with help from the Golfshot app. After using the smartphone app to select the course I was playing on, the watch provided a constant read-out of my distance from the hole. If I was any good at golf, this would have been tremendously helpful for deciding which club to use, as my phone was safely stowed away in my golf bag for the rest of the outing. (See question number one.) It’d be even better if the app let you enter a score at the end of each hole, but this is a fine start.

Delta’s Android app is another example of a wearable app done right. If you check into a flight on your phone, the watch provides up to date boarding information right on your wrist (question two) and presents your boarding pass to use at the gate (question three).

Similarly, Allthecooks’ Android Wear functions can save time by showing recipe instructions on your wrist. Having those instructions follow you around the kitchen makes a lot more sense than having to constantly look back to your phone or tablet for reference.

One of the big criticisms of smartwatches so far is that they only make life more complicated. They represent another device to carry, another screen to keep charged every night, another set of apps to deal with.

The thing that interests me about Android Wear is its potential to simplify, presenting information in a way that helps us think about our phones less often. That’s not going to happen if developers keep taking the easy path, turning Android Wear into another screen full of apps.

TIME Smartwatches

Android Wear Review: The Watch That Wants to Save You From Your Phone

Jared Newman for TIME

Google's smartwatch platform shows promise, but needs better hardware and smarter features.

A funny thing has happened to me over the last week and a half, as I’ve been reviewing a couple Android Wear smartwatches from LG and Samsung: Instead of being the guy who takes out his phone at every opportunity, I’ve become the one who stands idly by while other people thumb around on their handsets.

It’s not that I’m always fiddling with the screen on my wrist instead; I’m actually spending less time interacting with screens in general. By having all my phone’s notifications in view, I can ignore the ones that aren’t important and quickly deal with the ones that are. And because the phone stays in my pocket, I’m not tempted to spend the next five minutes looking at Twitter or Facebook. Against all logic, tethering a computer to my wrist has been liberating.

But is that idea enough to convince people to start wearing watches again? It’s doubtful, especially in Android Wear’s current form.

Right now, there are two smartwatches that run on Google’s Android Wear platform. Samsung’s Gear Live costs $199 and is a bit gaudy with its metallic trim and slim snap-on wristband, while the $229 LG G Watch strikes a more utilitarian look with a rubberized band and all-plastic finish. In both cases, the aesthetic leans toward “geek badge of honor,” thanks to clunky rectangular bodies and thick black bezels around the displays. (I’ll compare the two watches more in a future post, as I’ve only spent a day with LG’s model. My quick impressions are that Samsung has the better screen and more appealing design, while LG’s drop-in dock is more convenient for nightly charging.)

The Notification Machine

Like other smartwatches on the market already, such as the Pebble and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear line, Android Wear puts your phone’s notifications on your wrist. But what stands about Google’s approach is how little effort it takes to view these notifications and take action on them with a swipe or voice command.

With Android Wear, there’s hardly any setup involved. Everything’s tied to the actionable notifications on Android phones, so once you’ve paired the watch over Bluetooth, you can immediately do things like manage e-mails, dismiss text messages, control the phone’s music playback, glance at sports scores and get traffic alerts from Google Now. The screen stays in greyscale mode until you tap it or tilt it toward you, at which point you can view each notification by flicking upward.

Jared Newman for TIME


This can lead to some delightful moments as you get in the habit of glancing at your wrist for information. Last weekend, for instance, I made a quick trip to the grocery store to grab some breakfast items when I caught a notification from Todo Cloud, a free smartphone app that supports location-based reminders. It was telling me to pick up some pasta–something I’d reminded myself to do earlier–and I would have missed the message if it hadn’t been waiting on my wrist. Without any extra effort on my part, Android Wear saved me a return trip to the store.

It helps that the software is smooth and responsive, and generally runs without any glitches, but I do have a few nitpicks: It takes a little too long for the system to recognize swiping after the screen lights up, and I wish you could un-dismiss a notification if you accidentally swipe it away. It’d also be nice if the main screen had an icon bar, like the one on Android phones, so you could get a high-level view of which notifications are waiting.

Android Wear will also face some natural growing pains, as a lot of third-party apps still haven’t optimized their code for wearables. For example, Secret can notify you when a friend posts, but doesn’t show you the actual post on the watch. You can retweet or “favorite” a Twitter mention, but you can’t reply directly by voice. In WhatsApp, there’s no way to view full messages, reply to them or mark them as read. Because Android Wear is supposed to just work, it’s disappointing when these apps don’t.

That same kind of uncertainty carries over to Android Wear’s voice commands, which you trigger by tapping the main screen or saying “OK Google.” This is useful for quickly dictating a text message, setting a reminder or pulling up turn-by-turn directions, but most third-party apps don’t work with voice — and the handful that do require you to memorize specific syntax. Voice recognition also stumbles in some areas, always recognizing “Android Wear” as “Android Where,” for instance, and failing to interpret punctuation commands like “comma” and “question mark.” I quickly learned to avoid voice unless I knew exactly what I was going to get in response.

Why Not Just Take Out Your Phone?

A lot of the above issues are annoyances rather than dealbreakers. But as Google tries to improve the platform, there’s a more fundamental dilemma that Android Wear needs to figure out: If most people are happy to whip out their phones, why would they care about a device that spares them from doing so?

The answer, I think, will come from functions that are not as practical on a smartphone–things you might not do at all if you have to take the device out of your pocket. Android Wear lays a foundation for these kinds of uses, but doesn’t provide nearly enough of them.

Going back to my grocery store example, while I was shopping I also saw another notification from Google Wallet, letting me know that I was close to the in-store Starbucks. The reminder alone wasn’t useful, but imagine if Wallet had gone a step further and put my Starbucks card’s barcode on my wrist. If every loyalty card, coupon, ticket and boarding pass could pop up in the right location, I wouldn’t even have to think about reaching for my wallet or phone. This is definitely possible with Android Wear–Delta is already doing it for boarding passes–but it’s not a centerpiece of the platform right now.

Likewise, Google has promised the ability to unlock your smartphone or Chromebook with a paired Android Wear device, and it’s easy to imagine this capability expanding to sensitive third-party apps in the future. But even the basic unlocking feature won’t arrive until the next version of Android comes out this fall.

What we have now is a classic Google work-in-progress. The software needs more ways to surpass the abilities of users’ smartphones, and the hardware needs to get thinner, lighter and less clunky. (Motorola’s Moto 360 watch will bring some much-needed style to the lineup later this summer, but it’s not a panacea for bulky tech.) And while I’m not bothered by the one-day battery life of these watches, they need more convenient ways to recharge overnight, such as a wireless charging mat on your nightstand. Until the hardware and software are further along, saving yourself from your phone should probably wait.

TIME Smartwatches

5 Quick Impressions of an Android Wear Smartwatch

Jared Newman for TIME

Here's what it's like to wear a Google-powered smartwatch for a day.

A smartwatch isn’t the kind of thing you can review overnight. It takes a while to get a sense of how useful it is in daily life, how well the design works and how comfortable it feels.

But having spent the day with the Samsung Gear Live, one of the first smartwatches for Google’s Android Wear platform, I’m at least starting to form some first impressions. Here are a handful of things that come to mind after having Android Wear on my wrist for most of the day:

Deleting unwanted e-mails is my killer app: Like most other tech writers, my inbox is constantly overrun with junk–usually PR pitches that are incredibly boring or irrelevant. So far, the best part of Android Wear is the ability to delete these e-mails with a swipe and a tap, leaving only the messages that actually matter. My only complaint is that the delete confirmation stays on the screen for a half-second too long. In other words, I still can’t get rid of unwanted e-mails fast enough.

The “reach for your phone” instinct is tough to shake: There were a couple of times throughout the day when, out of instinct, I reached into my pocket see if I’d missed any notifications on my phone. Android Wear is supposed to prevent you from having to check your phone all the time, but I think this will be a tough habit to break.

I’m much more aware of Google Now, now: The problem with Google Now on a smartphone is that it’s trying to give you timely information, but you might not see it unless you take out your phone and open the Google Search app. With a smartwatch, those same Google Now cards are sitting on your wrist, where you’re far less likely to miss them. This can be annoying–I don’t constantly need to see, for instance, that my flight tonight is on time–but hopefully I’ll get enough useful tidbits to make Google Now’s presence worthwhile.

“Mute” is a must-have feature, but could be better: If we’re going to start strapping computers to our wrists, we’ll need a way to shut them off, letting people know that we won’t be constantly distracted. Cleverly, Android Wear lets you turn off notifications by swiping down from the top of the screen. It’s a great feature for any smartwatch, but it leaves me wondering why it doesn’t silence my smartphone as well.

It’s unfinished: This is currently an unreleased product, so a few bugs and missing features are to be expected. So far, I haven’t been able to get directions on the watch or respond to text messages by voice. Many apps aren’t optimized for Android Wear yet, and some of the features Google has announced won’t be available until later this year, including the ability to skip the password screen on a paired Android phone or Chromebook.

I also realize I haven’t scratched the surface of what Android Wear can do. As I spend more time with the watch, I’ll be looking for apps that work well, and testing things like Chromecast playback and music controls. The LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live both launch on July 7, so consider these impressions a work in progress–kind of like Android Wear itself.

TIME video

VIDEO: Here’s What’s Next for Google (in Two Minutes)

Wherein we smoosh Google's 2014 developer conference keynote from 2.5+ hours down to just under two minutes.

TIME Google

You Can Pre-Order These Android Wear Smartwatches Right Now

LG G Watch
LG LG G Watch

Google offered the first in-depth look at its upcoming operating system for smartwatches Wednesday at its annual I/O developers conference.

Android Wear-based devices will be an extension of users’ smartphones that they wear on their wrist. Devices that run the new Android Wear OS will be able to scroll through notifications from both smartphone apps and apps within Android Wear itself, such as emails, appointments, weather updates and text messages.

Dismissing a notification on the watch will also remove it from the phone if the devices are synched. The platform will also make considerable use of Google Now, the company’s Siri-like digital assistant. Users will be able to ask questions directly to their watch and see answers pop up on the device’s display.

Google also demonstrated specfic apps from popular Internet services that will be compataible with Android Wear. Eat24, a food delivery website, can be used to quickly order dinner via the watch, while users will also be able to hail rides through the car-sharing service Lyft. Apps such as these will be automatically installed on Android Wear devices when users download the smartphone version of the apps from the Google Play Store.

The first smartwatches to make use of Android Wear, the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live, will be available for pre-order later Wednesday. The Moto 360, the first Android Wear watch to sport a round watch face, will go on sale later this summer.

TIME Gadgets

4 Ways Android Wear Can Succeed Where Google Glass Has Failed


Google Glass is still a prototype, but it's already losing the fight for acceptance. That doesn't mean wearable tech is doomed, though.

Last week was a rough one for Google Glass, as pundits took turns laying into Google’s prototype wearable tech.

Longtime Glass advocate Robert Scoble said he stopped wearing his high-tech glasses at Coachella because of the negative reaction it triggered among his fellow concertgoers. Scathing editorials in the Weekly Standard, Forbes and ZDNet followed, with ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes declaring that “Google Glass is dead.” Joining the pile-on, a Colorado-based bank had some fun lampooning a Glass-dominated future.

It’s tempting, as Kingsley-Hughes has done, to wonder if Glass’s troubles will derail wearables entirely. But I wouldn’t pin the success or failure of the entire category on a single pair of glasses. If anything, Google is on the way to correcting Glass’ shortcomings with Android Wear, a platform for wearable technology that’s more focused on smartwatches.

I don’t know if Android Wear will be a hit, but the software seems clever. And as a whole, it has a better chance at mainstream acceptance than Glass ever will, for several reasons:

No Camera Creepiness: With Glass, you can start recording a video with the wink of an eye, and because the camera is mounted to your head, no one knows for sure if you’re recording them or not. Wearing Glass changes the social dynamic, causing people around you to keep their guard up. Or, it can get you kicked out of movie theaters, attacked at bars and avoided at concerts.

Although some Android Wear devices may include cameras, it won’t be the same as having a hands-free camera at eye level. Any act of recording would be more conspicuous, similar to capturing video from your phone. You can try to do it in secret, but it won’t be as easy, especially in one-on-one situations.

The Use Cases Are Clearer, and They Advertise Themselves: Imagine using a smartwatch to show your boarding pass at the airport, or to swipe your loyalty card at the grocery store. Instead of taking out your phone and looking around for the right app, the appropriate barcode would just pop up based on your location. This could be a killer application for wearable technology, and while it’s on the feature list for Android Wear, it’s just not possible with Google Glass.

These wrist-based transactions would have a built-in marketing benefit for Google: Anyone who sees the transaction, whether it’s a friend, the cashier or the person in line behind you, is likely to be impressed. They may ask about how you bought a coffee without removing anything from your pockets, and may begin to consider a smartwatch when they hear about the other benefits.

Glass will always be a novelty, by comparison. People can see you wearing it, but don’t know why (though, again, they may suspect you’re recording them). You can let people try it, but that becomes a hassle, and doesn’t give much of a chance for people to see what Glass can do.

You Could (Hopefully) Turn It Off: This is just speculation, but let’s assume that Android Wear gets a “Do Not Disturb” feature, which would disable notifications, go into a basic clock mode and silence your phone. This, in itself, could be another killer feature. To the people you’re with, it would communicate that your attention is undivided, that you’re not going to be distracted by the device on your wrist or in your pocket.

Glass is different. You can turn it off, but the people you’re with may not realize it unless they understand how the device works–and they may still be distracted by its presence. You can take it off, but then you have to deal with putting it in a safe place where it won’t be forgotten or broken. A smartwatch can stay on your wrist the entire time.

The Barrier to Fashion Acceptance Is Lower: Traditional glasses don’t require any mechanical parts–they’re just lenses and frames–so without a quantum leap in miniaturization, devices like Glass will never be an invisible addition to standard eyewear. Traditional watches, however, are packed with moving parts and a battery, so there’s already a place for smartwatch components to go. While we haven’t seen any Android Wear watches up close, existing smartwatches such as Pebble Steel are about the same size as a regular watch. It’s a lot easier to wear one without making a spectacle of yourself.

While Google hasn’t announced a price or release date for the consumer version of Glass, the first Android Wear watches from Motorola and LG will launch this summer.


TIME video

Android Wear: Here’s What Google’s Smartwatch Interface Looks Like

Over on YouTube, Dom Esposito burns through a roughly six-minute overview of the developer version of Android Wear, the software that’ll power Android-based smartwatches set to hit the market this year (see my colleague Jared Newman’s excellent Android Wear write-ups here and here).

In the above video, Esposito shows off the developer version of Android Wear, which he loaded onto his HTC One smartphone. Though the functionality shown in the video is a far cry from what we’ll see in finished products, the tour should give you a good idea of how text messages, tweets, email and calls will be handled.

Of all the smartwatch offerings on the market right now, I’ll admit that the Moto 360 watch shown in the video is the only one to have caught my interest to the point that I’m actually considering buying one. Two things will make or break the purchase for me, however: price and battery life.

For me, anything north of $150 probably won’t cut it. As for battery life, I don’t expect to get more than a few days out of each charge, but I certainly don’t want to have to charge it every night. Ideally, the screen would stay off to conserve battery life unless a call, text message or email comes through. In other words, I wouldn’t use this thing to tell time.

Google Android Wear: Full Overview And Demo (Beta) [YouTube via Tim Stevens]

TIME Smartwatches

With Android Wear, Google Just Made Other Smartwatches Look Foolish


Android Wear is more advanced than anything we've seen so far.

No disrespect to Samsung, Sony and Pebble, but their smartwatch efforts are now in trouble.

On Tuesday, Google announced Android Wear, a version of Android for smartwatches and possibly other wearable devices. The hardware isn’t coming until next quarter, and we haven’t seen the software in action on a working prototype. But if Google’s documentation reflects reality, this is the closest we’ve come to what a smartwatch should be.

Some pundits are saying Android Wear is basically Google Now on a smartwatch, but that analysis misses the big picture. While Google’s virtual assistant software can be helpful if you’re waiting on a package or heading to the airport, it’s dormant most of the time. A smartwatch that focused on Google Now would be dull and useless for most people.

The real key to Android Wear is how it hooks into existing smartphone apps through notifications and voice controls. Compared to other smartwatches on the market now, Android Wear is miles ahead.

Push(ing) Notifications

For years, the groundwork for Android Wear has been in place thanks to the way Android handles notifications. When you get a notification on an Android phone, you can do more than just open the corresponding app. Android lets you take action straight from the notification area, so you can send a quick response to a text message, delete an unwanted e-mail, return a missed call or control music playback, all without opening the app itself.

Those actionable notifications will play a major role in Android Wear. By swiping to the left of any notification, you’ll see more information and potential actions, such as a list of canned text message responses, directions to your meeting or a check-in option for your upcoming flight. These are the same actions that appear when you expand a notification on an Android phone. And while developers will be able to add more actions or pages specifically for smartwatches, the basic work is already done.

Even the way Android displays notifications ties in nicely to Android Wear. When you have lots of unread notifications on an Android phone, each one becomes a small snippet to conserve space. If you want a larger summary, you can expand any notification by pinching outward. But on Android Wear, the larger summary appears by default, taking up the entire screen, and you can swipe up or down to move between notifications. Having a larger view of notifications makes sense on a smartwatch, and again, it doesn’t require much extra work from developers because the capability is already built into Android proper.

Giving Apps a Voice

At the same time, Google is looking to give more power to existing Android apps through voice commands. The documentation here isn’t as clear, but apparently users will be able to speak a command into the watch, and have a third-party app of their choice carry out the appropriate action. For example, you might want to play an artist in Pandora instead of Google Play Music, or send a message in WhatsApp instead of Hangouts. Some of these functions already exist in Android proper, though it’s possible that Google will expand them with Android Wear.

The key takeaway from all these features is that they require no setup by the user and no mandatory work by the app developer. Everything’s tied into the apps you’re already using on your phone.

That isn’t the case with existing smartwatches. Pebble, for example, requires downloading a setup app on your phone and then using it to load individual apps onto the watch. Those apps are often more trouble than they’re worth. And while Pebble can display notifications from any smartphone app, it can’t let you take action on those notifications, and it doesn’t format them in an intelligent way. It’s a clunky system.

Google’s system is different. Instead of building a new set of smartwatch apps, Google is tapping into the huge library of existing Android apps and pulling out just the parts that make sense for smartwatches — that is, actionable notifications and voice controls. It’s not just Google Now on a watch, but a way of pulling the entirety of Android into a Google Now-like system. Whether that’s by design or by happy accident, it will make competition difficult for any company that doesn’t control its own platform. Your move, Apple.

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