Keyboards on Android Wear can exist, just not like this

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.

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