Android Wear Revisited: Perfect Companion for the Internet of Things

Android Wear Revisited: Perfect Companion for the Internet of Things

It's More Than Just a Gimmick

From running your smartphone to your kitchen sink, Android has proven to be quite the versatile operating system. Android devices have become ubiquitous throughout the world, yet many consumers are probably unaware of what exactly it is their smart device is running.

As Android enthusiasts here at XDA, we know what Android version our devices are running (and many of us actively seek out devices that can run a particular Android version). However, there is one subset of Android devices that most Android enthusiasts have come to ignore – Android Wear smartwatches.

“Smart wearables only account for about a third of the total market today while basic wearables, led by fitness trackers, account for the rest.” –  Jitesh Ubrani, Senior Research Analyst for IDC’s Mobile Device Trackers.

Top Five Smartwear Operating System Shipments, Market Share, and 5-Year Growth Rate (Units in Millions)

Smart Wristwear OS 2015 Shipments 2015 Market Share 2019 Shipments 2019 Market Share 2015-2019 CAGR
WatchOS 13.9 58.3% 40.3 47.4% 30.6%
Android Wear 4.1 17.4% 32.6 38.4% 67.5%
Pebble OS 2.1 8.7% 2.6 3.1% 6.4%
RTOS 2.0 8.3% 7.6 9.0% 40.1%
Tizen 1.6 6.7% 1.8 2.2% 3.7%
Other 0.1 0.6% 0.0 0.0% -100%
Total 23.8 1.0 85.1 1.0 37.5%

Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, September 14, 2015

wearwatyouwantWe know that 2014 didn’t shape up to be the year of smartwatches that Google had intended. In 2015, total worldwide shipment of smart wearables was estimated to reach 24 million devices. Of those 24 million, only a paltry 4.1 million was made up of Android Wear devices. The number of smartphone shipments in 2015 absolutely dwarfs that of smart wearables in comparison. Despite the upward trend of sales in the smartwatch sector, why are the numbers currently so low?

There are of course plenty of good reasons one might have overlooked getting an Android Wear device — pricing and availability, for instance. But one question that many enthusiasts asked themselves when Android Wear was unveiled was probably along the lines of “why would you want Android on a watch? It’s just another gimmick.” I thought so too, until I revisited Android Wear this past month to get a taste of how the ecosystem has evolved since it first came out.

Disclaimer: Thoughts reflected on this article are based on my time spent with a Huawei Watch, of which I will rely on for my findings and conclusions. 


Don’t Call me a Kid

Android Wear was first marketed as a companion to your smartphone or tablet. Its extra screen serves as an extended, actionable notification tray for your main Android device. On the first generation Android Wear devices, there really wasn’t much else you could do with it. If you dismissed Android Wear at this point, you were fairly justified in doing so. As the ecosystem has evolved, however, Android Wear has gone from being your smartphone’s notification tray to a fully-fledged Android control center. And with future technology trending towards the smart home, an Android Wear device will become incredibly useful to have.

“…Android Wear has gone from being your smartphone’s notification tray to a fully-fledged Android control center.”

A control center, huh? It’s hard to imagine this to be the case when knowing that applications for Android Wear devices actually install most of the package on your primary device. Plenty of Android Wear apps on the Play Store still focus on enhancing your notification experience, but there are now many companion apps that fully remove the need to even pull out your smartphone! Sure, you’re probably not going to browse XDA using your tiny smartwatch display, but if you really need to check out a quick video, link, or respond to the latest e-mail you have that ability. Like listening to podcasts? What about quickly pulling up your home security camera? It’s an improvement, and truth be told most of the time you’ll spend on an Android Wear watch will still be based on responding to notifications. If you’re not convinced that you should jump on the Android Wear bandwagon just yet, it’s because we haven’t yet talked about the future.


Internet of Things, Meet Android Wear

This 2016 is shaping up to be the year of the Internet of Things. Every tech company, both big and small, is pouring resources into competing for this sector (just take a look at this year’s list of exhibitions at CES Las Vegas). We don’t know yet which software solution will win this race (MediaTek’s backed OpenWRT? Google’s Brillo? Huawei’s LiteOS?), one thing we can be sure of is the fact that these smart home appliances will definitely aim to provide a companion Android app of some sort. Most available smart home devices already do. And that’s where Android Wear comes in.

It’s unlikely that most of these appliances will require navigating a complex user interface to control, which makes the simplified design of Android Wear a perfect fit for controlling your future smart home. Think about the alternatives – you could either pull out your phone every time you want to turn on the AC or dim the lights, or you could get up and walk to the smart home control panel mounted on the wall. Neither option sounds very appealing to the couch potato who just wants to relax and watch some Netflix (especially with how huge phones have become lately). A watch is small, sleek, and does the job just fine. Of course, none of this would be possible if manufacturers didn’t build an accompanying Android Wear component of their Android app. The only way to convince these companies to do so is to show them there’s a market for it by supporting Android Wear.


The Future is Now

Though I believe it’s likely Android Wear will play a useful role in controlling your devices, would it really work out in practice? I think it would be silly to bet on Android Wear without seeing such a system in person, but luckily you can already taste a “proof of concept” thanks to the magic of Tasker and AutoWear. AutoWear is an app for Android Wear smartwatches that doubles as a Tasker plug-in. With the app, you’re able to perform Tasker actions based on gestures, time, floating icon, or a user-created “scene.”

Unfortunately, Tasker’s learning curve will deter most average users

Thanks to the power of Tasker, this means you can perform an immeasurable number of actions straight from your watch. Everything you could make Tasker do from your smartphone can be done more conveniently through Android Wear.

Want to control your Philips Hue lighting? AutoHue has got you covered. What about your Vera home system? AutoVera can do it. Start a movie on your XBMC? AutoXBMC. Your desktop computer can probably take part in the automation fun as well. Just install EventGhost on your PC and AutoRemote on your phone and you’ve successfully bridged the gap. The possibilities are endless.

Unfortunately, the learning curve will deter most average users from setting up these systems on your smartwatch, which is why I’m personally hoping to see companies taking the initiative to bring support to Android Wear on their own. If there’s one thing any determined Android user itching to try out new things on their smartwatch can rely on, it’s the power of enthusiast communities.  The Tasker subreddit has featured some rather sweet ways to take advantage of Tasker integration on their smartwatch via AutoWear, or alternatively you can check out the developer’s own forum for ideas.


Is Android Wear Ready?

Everything I’ve mentioned thus far relies on Android Wear devices themselves being ready for this future. Unfortunately, the availability of Android Wear devices pales in comparison to how easy it is to get Android phones and tablets. On the other hand, the ease with which you can replace watch bands on most flagship models makes online purchasing a more enticing option if you’re on the market for a smartwatch. In addition, the many sales and price drops seen on first generation smartwatches make Android Wear much more accessible now than ever before.

Sales and price drops seen on first generation smartwatches make Android Wear much more accessible than ever before.

The issues plaguing many first generation devices have largely been fixed via software updates, and have mostly disappeared in the newer models. While I can’t speak for most Android Wear devices on the market, my time with the Huawei Watch has convinced me that Android Wear is in a good enough state if you’re looking to get one right now.

Android Wear runs pretty much the same no matter what smartwatch you use, so just pick out a model that you fancy and can afford.  For me, personally, I rather enjoyed the beautiful metal links on the Huawei Watch, and the battery life lasted me a full two days of normal use so I have little to complain about. (Plus that charger is a thing of beauty!)

If that battery life doesn’t sound appealing to you, remember that this is Android we’re talking about, so you could always unlock the bootloader and flash a new kernel! On the other hand, since this is Android we’re talking about, you might come across some random wake locks that kill your battery life (this has happened to me on more than one occasion). And because of Android Wear’s simplified UI, there’s not much you can do to actually manage which apps run and when.

Android Wear might have a few kinks to straighten out (though hopefully the watches themselves don’t have any kinks!) but I feel that it’s headed in the right direction. As long as the smart home market continues expanding, I can see Android Wear piggy-backing off its growth.

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