You'll likely need something other than voice input on your watch — here's one way it could work

Keyboards on Android Wear smartwatches are just not a good idea. But voice only isn't the answer either. There's a middle ground to be found here, and the first developer who figures it out wins.

It didn't take long to form an opinion regarding Minuum's attempt at an Android Wear keyboard. It's bad, I mean really and truly not a good experience. Now, in Minuum's defense this is basically an Alpha release of a keyboard that has already been released on other, more traditional platforms — phones and tablets. Things like the settings menu being basically unusable can be ignored for this first effort, but the keyboard itself isn't really going to change because it's the same keyboard on every other platform Minuum supports. Minuum is probably the closest thing we'll ever see to a full digital keyboard on such a small display be even a little functional, and that has a lot to do with how insanely good their prediction algorithms are. Their keyboard for regular ol' Android is pretty great, if you haven't already checked it out.

At the end of the day, however, it really doesn't feel like virtual keyboards have a place on Android Wear. It's fairly obvious that the platform needs some kind of manual input, because there are plenty of situations in our day-to-day lives where talking to your watch isn't going to work, but a quick gesture or two on your watch would be a faster alternative to pulling out your phone. That's all this really boils down to — convenience, availability, and time. There needs to be a manual input that exists at that intersection, but a whole keyboard on a screen that's only barely larger than your thumb will never fit that description.

The best way to include a manual input mechanism probably would be something Google would have to implement on its end. Quick, canned responses are a tried-and-true solution that has worked on similar platforms before. But Android Wear would need a single, vital addition. The canned responses need to be user-controlled from the Android Wear app, and possibly even from a web interface as well.

We'll need customizable, controllable, canned responses on our watches.

Something where users can add their own phrases and organize them based on importance. It wouldn't hurt if the list of phrases could sort themselves contextually, so the list of phrases you have access to when driving or at the office or even at the gym are all sorted to make sending the right message as quick as possible. The watch is already aware of your location thanks to Google Now, so this really wouldn't be a huge stretch for Android Wear to just natively support in the future.

App developers could take this idea and run with it, giving users options that fit the app they are currently in. Eat24, for example, offers a canned social post at the end of every successful order. Each one is a little different, but they are almost always witty and fun to share. Users should be able to swipe and dismiss canned responses that aren't very good, but this allows developers to get creative in promoting themselves and users get more options to choose from.

Like Android Wear itself, this is not a solution without flaws. This smartwatch platform is not designed to replace your phone. The goal of a smartwatch is to decrease the number of times you pull your phone out of your pocket, not reduce that number to zero. Your smartphone is still going to be the best solution for sending most messages in environments where your voice is not an option, and that really is how it should be.


Reader comments

Keyboards on Android Wear can exist, just not like this


Meh. Let me rock a Bluetooth keyboard. I need a connection to connect to what connects to my phone.

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I think you're right with the canned responses. Contextualising this would be the fastest and easiest way to get your message across in my opinion. Sure, its a little impersonal, but if you're sending it from your watch all you want is something fast and convenient.

Besides, I've been playing Mario Kart 8 a lot recently (don't worry, I'm going somewhere with this) and the only communication you have with that when you play online is canned responses. Even then I can normally get my message across because I have to. Imagine a system which knows what you're doing, where you are and what kind of interaction is needed. It would work!

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Why not handwriting recognition? I'm not saying whole words, but atleast letter at a time. I know I have trouble with telling my phone to send a text to a non traditional name, maybe even give us access to the contact list sorted into A-z.

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What about old school T9 input? It would work for basic responses, and anything you need to say more detailed, you um well use your phone.

I have Fleksy messenger running on my gear 2 and after its 1st update it really started working perfect and thats a predictive keyboard. I don't see why they don't come out with Fleksy for Android wear

Isn't the answer to this already found in Pebble OS and can easily be implemented in Android Wear? It's called Pre-set messages. You can store up to almost 30 presets in Pebble OS and then just flip through them and hit send. Anything out of the ordinary, you can either use voice if applicable, or pull your phone out. Or ignore it until later. I think we have MANY options...

What is needed is a mixture of several things, firstly the option to use predetermined responses & secondly an ouroboros keyboard layout. Maybe Minuum have already realised that there keyboard needs more space not up but across making it a never ending cycle could well be there answer.

I think it will be a long time before I jump onto the wearables train. I just don't see the added benefit of having the watch which seems like it would be cumbersome to use or do much with as opposed to just pulling my phone out of my pocket. There will have to be some pretty great features in order for me consider buying one. Maybe in a couple years.