Android Wear: The step backward we all really want

Meet Google Glass
Meet Google Glass (Image credit: Android Central)

Android Wear is coming this week, and before its official launch it is already more popular than Google Glass. This simultaneously excites and frustrates me, because in several ways I feel that Android Wear is a step backwards from Glass. Well, not technically a step backwards. More like the step that should have happened first, which makes it easy to perceive it as a step backwards.

Glass isn't a Google product. It's Google [X] Moonshot project that was thrust into the public eye (get it?) while straddling the consumer market. It's too expensive to be a real product, not supported like a real product, and at the same time is now available for anyone to purchase and experience. This could never happen with any other kind of technology, and it probably shouldn't have happened with Glass in the way that it did. GM couldn't make a future car that only kind of worked most of the time available to the public for three times what it should cost and have everything be OK. (It has enough issues with its current-day products, for that matter.) That's probably a false equivalence on several levels, but the point is that this is Google trying something new with the end goal of enhancing the state of the art by learning more about how businesses and people would interface with this kind of technology.

Unfortunately, we as people don't think on high levels like Google's [X] team was when this plan was conceived. Instead, the world largely perceives this as a consumer product and judges it thus. This causes everything from price and feaure criticism to a downright tribal reaction to the asymmetrical change to the existing list of acceptable headgear. It looks funny, and it's expensive, so rapid judgement on a tribal level is all too common. I have several colleagues that say "Russell is the only Glass user I've seen that doesn't look like a total douche while wearing his unit" and it took me a while to come to terms with that. I wasn't doing anything different from my fellow Explorers, so the only conclusion I could come to was the community reaction. It was ok to these people because they knew me and liked me beforehand. This is problematic on an entirely different level, and not something I think most people are equipped to deal with from either perspective.

Enter Android Wear. It's significantly less expensive, focuses on combining several cultural norms into a single concept, and places a premium on being visually stunning in every instance we've seen so far. Android Wear doesn't actually accomplish anything though, it exists under the pretense that lifting your wrist is less effort than reaching into your pocket and unlocking your phone. While this is true, it's a solution in search of a problem. It's also the next tech craze that is going to send a lot of people reaching for their wallets next week, because they have already been convinced that they need this in their lives.

So why is this arguably unnecessary tech a step backwards? Because it's the logical step in between data on your phone and data in your eye. The features that make Android Wear great are things like Google Now and selective notification glances. Turn by turn navigation and things of that nature in a form that keeps you potentially more in touch with the real world. It's all too obvious that the next step for something like Wear is to remove the wrist element altogether and make the tech exist as part of your periphery.

I'm excited for Android Wear, but it also saddens me in a way. The socially accepted wrist glance and the imaginary outrage (in this case I'm saying that the reasons for the outrage are imaginary, not the outrage itself) for Glass will propel developers to do some seriously cool things for the platform. That development will probably lead to some amazing things that we can't quite imagine yet, but through all of it I think it will still exist to me as an unnecessary application of the brake pedal in the evolution of wearable technology so everyone else can catch up and realize that we could be doing more if we moved the tech from the wrist to the eye.

Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • It seems like it'll be a nice complement to the motorcycle I'll be getting in a few weeks. Turn by turn on my wrist, and I can take action on texts and other alerts (while stopped) without having to dig in my pocket for my phone and fumble with my helmet. Add in the riding gloves and this being mounted on my wrist becomes even more useful.
  • i certainly use my pebble to change tracks and now volume to what i'm listening to when i'm on the motorcycle; nav would be awesome (hopefully waze, use that in the car every day) but replying even while stopped might be a pretty big challenge unless you have a very quiet bike on a quiet stop. Still, I'm really looking forward to whta's coming!
  • You listen to headphones while you're riding your motorcycle?! I don't know how you do that. Riding a motorcycle (or even a regular bike) takes so much more attention and carefulness (is that even a word) that I couldn't imagine not being able to hear what's going on around me! How do you hear car horns, or emergency sirens, or anything else with headphones on?! What if you can't hear a car screeching on it's breaks right behind you? I'm not normally one to point fingers, but dude you're crazy!
  • Why do you assume that wearing headphones makes one unable to hear anything around them? There is still such a thing as volume control. I have helmet-mounted speakers, through which I listen to music or podcasts from my phone via bluetooth, and even with a relatively loud motorcycle, I can comfortably hear the speech or music from these speakers, as well as car horns, sirens, and other such noises. What's more, on a motorcycle, I'm hyper-aware of everything around me. I'm constantly checking mirrors, looking beside me, in front of me, etc. Headphones don't prevent that. Like with most things in life, it's all a matter of degrees. Crank the music too loud, and yes, it becomes dangerous on a motorcycle (just as in a car), but it doesn't have to be an all or nothing issue.
  • I could be wrong, but my guess is you've never been in an accident on your bike before? You're probably early twenties? The world is yours and your invincible, AMIRITE?! I'm not assuming. I'm speaking from personal experience, as a guy who had a motorcycle (a really nice motorcycle) and rode it for years. I tried listening to music once, and I personally felt that anything in my ears was a distraction that wasn't worth dying over. But hey, that's my personal opinion. I felt it was unsafe, and i would never do it, and if I had any friends or family or anyone else that I know doing it I'd slap them in the back of the head for being so stupid (because I love them so much). The chances of you killing someone is a lot lower than someone plowing over you on your bike. It's not you that'll kill you. It's the giant truck not paying attention in the lane over that will kill you. If you think that extra 30 minutes of music/podcasts is worth the risk, then by all means keep doing what you're doing! You probably won't kill anyone but yourself. For what it's worth I've had two close friends die in (separate) motorcycle accidents. One was definitely their fault, the other someone hit them. I thought, HEY THAT'LL NEVER HAPPEN TO ME! I'M HYPER-AWARE OF EVERYTHING AROUND ME. I'M CONSTANTLY CHECKING MIRRORS, LOOKING BESIDE ME, IN FRONT OF ME, ETC. Then I got t-boned by a car that sped through a stop sign and drove off like a pussy. After I spent a week in ICU with internal bleeding, and almost died, I'm a little more likely to think twice about distractions while driving than I used to be. Ride safe!
  • That sucks that you had an accident, but that doesn't mean that you have to project your crappy experiences on someone else. I wear headphones wheni ride. Guess what? I can hear everything around me, amazing! AMIRITE?! I too have family that has been in accidents, but that doesn't change the fact that having some soothing sound in my ears keeps me more focused than wind noise (which is a big cause of hearing loss). Again sucks for you, but you don't have to be an ass.
  • Haha being an ass, eh? I even told him to "ride safe." You may have missed that part. If you get so butt hurt about other people's forum posts you should probably stay off the internet. As far as my comments, they're my opinions, and my opinions only. If you want to listen to headphones while you ride your bike, feel free. I really don't give a shit.
  • Not all headphones go IN your ears... Open on-ear headphones wouldn't block any more noise than having a beanie hat on, and wouldn't be any more distracting than the radio on any car (nevermind the mounds of insulation and other things that help people get complacent in a car). Furthermore, how could you have avoided getting t-boned by a car that runs thru a stop, what did headphones have to do with that?
  • The headphones didn't have anything to do with it. I was trying to convey to a fellow motorcycle rider that no matter how careful you are, it's the guy in the lane next to you that will probably cause the accident. I went off on a rant which had nothing to do with headphones while riding a bike, but my point is that i'm more uptight about paying attention than I used to, because if I were paying better attention I probably would have saw the guy running a stop sign and avoided the whole ordeal.
  • By your logic deaf people should be banned from the roads. Not sure what the case is in the USA, but in the UK they aren't. Posted via Android Central App
  • Haha what? TL:DR, right? I didn't mention anything about banning anyone.
  • you know what? well said. I will likely jump on android wear but thats because I want a fitness tracker and music controls on one device and watch as a throw in as I am due for a new one. A lot of the other features so far don't make a ton of sense vs just using your phone, but at the same time it takes away from what glass is trying to do.
  • Honestly, I had zero interest in Google Glass, but Android Wear looks to be really cool if it truly does everything Google says it can. I remember the hype over the Gear when it first came out. When I finally got my hands on one, I found it extremely lacking. It wasn't nearly as cool as the hype. I don't even wear it any more because it's kind of more of a hassle to put on than the features it provides. But, I'm hoping the Android Wear watches will be mostly as cool as the hype.
  • agreed!
  • Hoping the Gwatch hits the Play Store this week. Will pick it up for sure. Then when the Moto comes out I can wait for supply to catch up and get that. And give the LG to my boyfriend. Win win.
  • I'm a fan of the smartwatch phase; I'm currently wearing a first gen Pebble as we speak. That being said, I wouldn't mind taking a look at either Android Wear or whatever the good people at Lenovomoto or LG come up with, because I'm a bit annoyed at losing visualization because the screen futzes out at a moment's notice.
  • Motonovo, get it right. ;)
  • Lenomotovo?
  • Personally not a fan of wear. My phone already bothers me enough with notifications... Posted via Android Central App
  • That's the point, you can glance at notifications and more easily ignore them without pulling the phone out just to check what's up... It's a small measure of convenience (kinda like wireless charging), and it's largely dependant on your mindset. If you're gonna act on any notification the moment it pops regardless then it's clearly not for you, but it's not necessarily about being more connected either.
  • I hate Glass and the whole idea behind wearing computers on our faces (we already have enough issues with "being present"). That's not even mentioning how ridiculously stupid glass explorers look no matter how much you try to dress it up with fancy designers. However, I can get behind what Android Wear is trying to do. Having a limited OS for quick notifications and as another interface for info-at-a-glance from my phone can be a huge benefit. Silence your phone or look at a quick notification in a meeting without being rude and taking your phone out? Yeah. Navigating while riding my bicycle? Yeah. That's huge for urban bike commuters. Easily managing music or calls while skiing/snowboarding? Yeah. Anyone who has tried to take their phone out of their pocket while bundled up in freezing weather just to call a friend and find out where they are on the mountain can appreciate that. And due to Apple patents we don't have nearly as much options with headset controls as iOS. I can get behind Android Wear, for a variety of reasons.
  • We're not really lacking much with regards to headset controls, just volume buttons... You can issue commands, play/pause, skip ands even change volume with a single button and the right app. I agree with the general sentiment tho, I'll always so nervous opening my jacket to take out my phone on the ski lift... And I have to take the glove off to get any kinda secure grasp on it, rolling up my sleeve instead will be quite welcome.
  • Very good article with some very good points. Although I do wonder if glass like devices can become acceptable in the near future. It's easy for a watch device because it's such a well established and discrete technology. Also, I'm wondering how long it will be before I can see the name Russell Holly without thinking "friend of the show" lol :( Posted via Android Central App
  • Article author misses the point. The point being that a large amount of society simply don't enjoy wearing glasses. Or things on their face. Its the same reason 3D TV hasn't taken off (and it won't, until 3D TV becomes glasses free). Whether or not the author dislikes the wrist stuff is irrelevant to all of this. Societal pressure or not, people like wearing things on their body more so than their face. Posted via Android Central App
  • Google Glass makes people come out of your phone?!? Posted via Android Central App
  • No offense to Adam Zeis, but if i had a phone that can display a 3D hollogramic display; I wouldn't waste it at looking at old dudes about to strip. Please get better taste.
  • I have always wanted a smart watch, when I got Google Glass all I could say was how cool it was but how much nicer it would be on my wrist. Now my dream is coming true. I hope the battery life of the Moto 360 is great and it combos with google fit to track and be used during workouts.
  • I don't think it doesn't do nothing, but I'm not gonna buy a Android Wear smartwatch because it's gonna be the coolest toy ever. I'm buying one because I want music/media controls EVERYWHERE. In the car so I don't have to lean over to the head unit while driving, in the shower where I can't bring my phone, and while I'm dancing in the dark. Everything else is just icing. I just need media and volume controls. Navigation, notifications, that's all just delicious, fattening icing.
  • So... You want a pebble? Posted via Android Central App
  • I want to be able to seek within the track. Pretty sure the Pebble doesn't do that. they also didn't have volume control before like last month.
  • I can see a use for Glass at work, but the IT BYOB policy only supports iOS and Windows Phone. Also, I would have to develop all my own applications, which I don't have time to do (and I would need to learn the skill first). They supply my work iPhone. The moto 360, however, appeals to me as a way to less obtrusively deal with notifications on my non-work Android. Posted from my XT1080M
  • Will Google Glass not use Android wear? I assumed they would merge when Android wear was released. Glass seemed like a great development platform for Android Wear.
  • i don't see this as being a step backwards when glass is far from being ready for wide public use. i actually find it pretty darn funny that you would compare something that sits on your face, looks awkward, and has pretty terrible battery life to something like a watch that will do so much more. in a much much better way. glass, and its competitors, will need years of refinement and upgrades before this article has a leg to stand on. glass needs to look like a pair of glasses. you know.... kinda like how smart watches look like watches.
  • One can argue that wearing an ordinary (i.e. non-smartwatch) wristwatch is also unnecessary when your smartphone can tell you the time. So I don't think an Android Wear watch is a step backward, it is actually an evolution of a socially-accepted device form factor. The evolution is valid because an ordinary wristwatch is better for telling time than pulling out a smartphone to tell time (which is better than having no watch at all) whereas an Android Wear watch can tell you more than just time. The brouhaha over Google Glass is because the initial version was basically a camera-equipped computer that you wear on your face like ordinary glasses but did not have any lens. This last is significant because it is not an evolution of the socially-accepted eyeglasses form factor. If it doesn't have any lens to improve eyesight or protect your eyes from the elements, then it's not a pair of eyeglasses. If Google had announced Google Glass in its current iteration of having prescription lenses or protective eyegear from the get-go then it becomes more socially-acceptable as being simply a smarter version of eyewear. Google needs to do away with the lens-free version if they ever take Glass mainstream. Other socially-accepted peripherals that can be (or already are) imbued with "smartness" are: necklaces, rings, bracelets/wristlets, pins/brooches, shoes, earphones/headphones, jackets, and headgear.
  • I'm still not sure I understand Android Wear. It seems like a visually-super-charged, limited to a specific device, version of Pushbullet. What is the benefit of having a notification mirror on my wrist for a device that's in my pocket?
    Eh, maybe the I/O will reveal more...
  • All I really hope for is a smartwatch that has all the sensors of a Fitbit plus a heart rate monitor (whatever other sensors are included are a bonus), and support for apps like Stronglifts 5X5 and Rdio, so I'm not always reaching for my phone at the gym between sets.
  • Well written article. Until Android wear was being promoted, I thought those features where already available on the current stock of smartwatches. I can do without the watches...doesnt take much more effort to use my phone but I can see eyewear being useful with this tech largely as a monitor. If I could ditch a whatever size screen in favor of a set of glasses, that minimizes the space I need to use and hold. Interested to see where this goes. Posted via Android Central App
  • This article is way off base. You're relating people who are not interested in glass to simple minded tribesman is derogatory and elitist. People who wear or want to wear glass are being presumptuous when saying that face computers are the future of technology that society hasn't caught up to yet. i don't want glass because it is intrusive and obstructive and i don't want to live in a society where people are walking around with computers on their face potentially able to take videos/photos of me unknowingly. Not to mention the 'big brother' type possibilities. Glass is not a step ahead of the technological evolution, it's a step that most of us don't want at all. I understand how people who have invested a thousand dollars on glass would want to chance the societal perception of it for selfish reasons, but I for one will never wear, talk to anyone wearing or let anyone into my business wearing a computer on their face. Oh, and it does look douchy and stupid, especially when you have to make those ridiculous head movements.
  • People have been able to record you in the same way Glass can for over a decade ands a tenth of the cost, do you frisk everyone that enters your business to make sure they don't have a button cam or a tiny cam in their thick framed Ray Bans? I have little interest in Glass btw, though I do wear prescription eyewear (seeing how Lasik is actually done freaked me out, too lazy for contacts most days). I just think the freaking out over the recording aspect is vastly overblown. Now, ten years from now when Glass can run on the fly face recognition and actually do something with the camera besides record, you'll have a point, but business people would also be all over something like that.
  • Wake me when the watch can do all that without also carrying a phone. :D