Android Wear: Still feels like a beta

Hello NZ and the rest of the world! This week I thought I’d take a break from talking about tablets, and talk about Android Wear.

Fitness trackers and Smartwatches are a product I may consider stocking one day, and I’ve had a great experience with my Xiaomi Mi Band 2, fitness band. In fact I’ve really taken a shine to their whole product range.

The range of Android Wear specific apps is quite small, and even those suffer from being fiddly and tiny. Any time one wants to access the keyboard is a right pain in the backside. And the voice control is not as reliable as one would hope in the circumstances.

For limited applications, with gestures and a little voice, its a capable enough platform, if one wants more information than one can typically get from a fitness band – such as the weather, although it doesn’t fully offer a smartphone alternative – not only will LTE/GSM/CDMA be difficult to access anywhere that you would want a more portable device, such as hunting, hiking or camping – but the size of the device means, even if it has those features it has a more limited aerial size, and thus weaker connectivity. And so, you have to bring the smartphone anyway. And if you were the sort of person to do heavy work or similar, outside – like a builder, you’d be putting your device under a fair amount of risk anyway, for the limited extra functionality.

The experience certainly has its uses. In a strong network area, it could be convenient for those that don’t want to take a phone, especially if it has a built in ear piece. For busy corporate types, it could indeed be, with the right watch, a great productivity device.

But that is sort of the main point of difference – it’s stand alone uses. As a notification tool, a fitness band will do fine. For tracking most fitness applications, a fitness band will do fine. For those other stand alone uses, you need to be somewhere with a stronger signal – making things like maps, more complex fitness tracking, and most of the sort of software people design for the watches – well less useful.

For a city dweller, who prefers to have their info at a glance, there lies some real potential. There are certainly apps in there that can really shine – tracking reps in the gym, setting appointments. And if you are in a strong signal zone, you can leave the phone at home, and make calls from your wrist – ideally with a headpiece.

Just keep in mind, typing texts via voice will do your head in, typing anything on the screen, even selecting options on the watch may prove almost as fiddly as threading a needle – so if you do get into android wear I suggest you plan to keep it simple – a few basic applications, programmed with gestures, apps with a simple interface, and a little bit of voice operation. If you try to use it like a smartphone, it’s even more annoying than trying to use a smartphone like a tablet.

I think expandable screens are certainly much needed, and while they already exist (folding and scrolling screens), they are expensive to produce, so it might be some time before they come to market. In the meantime, smartwatches whilst very cool, are definitely niche.