Mobile

Android Wear devices are remote controls for phones, not Dick Tracy watches

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SAN FRANCISCO — A Google employee demo-ing the new Samsung Gear Live smartwatch for me yesterday tried to disabuse me of the notion that smartwatches can do things on their own.

When I asked him to wake up the watch and make it do some tricks, he said, “Try not to think of it that way.”

I understand the concept a bit better today, after watching one of several breakout sessions at Google I/O 2014 dedicated to helping developers create apps using Android Wear, the Android OS extension for wearable devices.

Listening to Google’s developers talking about Android Wear it soon becomes obvious that Android-powered wearables are not meant to act like the Dick Tracy watch.

Android Wear development team member Justin Koh told developers that the smartwatch is meant only as a “remote control” for Android phones. It is not meant to function with the same kind of autonomy that smartphones do.

Android Wear, in fact, relies on the phone it’s paired with to send and receive information. Wear is simply a bolted-on part of Android that developers can use to extend certain functions of the phone to a wearable.

“You can think about the your phone as the brain that connects with other devices like smartwatches and Android Auto,” said Austin Robison of Google’s Android Wear team.

Robison also said that the Wear team has been working closely with the Google Glass team, and that Android Wear notifications can already be sent to Google Glass units.

Google has said that Android Wear is meant to liberate users from their phones — to allow users to get information in a more human way. The problem is, a Wear-powered device is almost useless when it’s outside the short range of its Bluetooth connection to the phone.

So, for example, if you wanted to go for a run and leave your phone at home, you would not be able to send or receive notifications — or anything else — from your smartwatch.

Android Wear doesn’t support wearables with cellular or Wi-Fi functionality built in. Nor does it support wearables with GPS (allowing you to map the route of your run, for example), and Google isn’t saying anything about when that feature might be added.

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3 comments
Doug Grinbergs
Doug Grinbergs

For trail running and other outdoor exercise tracking, I remain enamored with the idea of a standalone GPS watch to map route, elevation changes, etc. but also with various biometric sensors to monitor exercise exertion, performance via heart rate, sweat, etc. to produce accurate calorie burn estimates. Seems that, for now, GPS has to stay in the phone, with watch as biometric data-gathering device - that is, a 2-device fitness system. Apple, watcha got?

James Chanbonpin
James Chanbonpin

I was thinking the same thing...like if your phone isn't nearby, the watch can only tell the time