Android Wear 2.0 Is Here

Android Wear 2.0 is officially launching in short order with the release of the LG Watch Sport on February 10th. This is a big release for the Wear platform, catching up with many features found on the Apple Watch and adding some new ones. One of the big new features not found on the Apple Watch is LTE connectivity separate from phone. Reading the comments, many people seem to be excited for the potential for this device to replace their phone.

This concept makes NO sense to me. I know Microsoft has bet heavily on “one device is better than two” concept, and people seem to intrinsically follow the logic. Personally, I think it is completely antithetical to my desires with computing. There are few things we use as frequently or are as important to our daily lives as computers in the modern era. One thing that definitely in a similar category would be our need to eat and our desire to have good food.

I love this analogy because we have so much duplicity in our lives with regards to food. Even the smallest studio apartment sets aside a considerable amount of space for a kitchen. When laying out one’s possessions in a studio apartment, almost everyone still makes room for a dining table, thus basically devoting two “rooms” to the concept of preparing and eating food even in a 400 square foot dwelling.

In the kitchen itself, almost everyone has a stove, an oven and a microwave. Personally, I really enjoy food, so I also have a grill, a crock pot, a deep frier and a sous vide. All of these appliances basically do the same thing, heat up food. They all do it in slightly different ways, and a huge portion of people own a multitude of these devices. Almost everyone has a variety of knives, many people have a food processor, some form of peeler, and maybe a cheese shredder and a mandolin slicer. Most of us have several kinds of skillets, maybe a couple of different sizes, some that are non-stick and some that allow browning and possibly a cast iron. Again, all of these are effectively doing the same thing, but all with slightly different strengths.

As we age, we generally accumulate more of these devices, not less. I see computing in the same light. Sure, when you’re first starting out, an all in one device is a good starting point. As time progresses though, it makes sense for these devices to proliferate. I have a desktop, a laptop, two iPads, an iPhone, an Apple Watch, and an Apple TV and I use each of these devices for separate purposes at least once a week, and generally each of them daily. With the exception of the watch and the Apple TV, all of these devices can technically do the same things, but they all do specific things better than the others in specific scenarios. 

My desktop is perfect for when I have a few hours and I’m deeply involved with some task at home. My iPad Pro is perfect when I’ve got some time and I’m on the couch or in a plane. My phone is perfect for on the go computing, or if I only have a few minutes for what I want to do. My iPad mini is perfect for reading in bed. My laptop is great for involved tasks when I don't want to sit at a desk. The Apple TV is obviously for displaying content on the biggest screen in my home. My watch comes through when I only have an instant, and is incredible for setting timers, turning on and off my Hue lights, and controlling my music, gauging my activity in a day and paying for stuff with Apple Pay. All of these devices are great for messaging. Again, there’s tons of overlap, but in specific scenarios, each device provides the best experience. Because Apple is obsessed with cutting weight from all these devices, I can bring all of them except my desktop when I go on a trip and they all fit in my backpack and all 6 devices weigh less than 5 pounds in aggregate.

There is no way I’m going to upgrade each device every year. The phone gets upgraded most frequently, but the desktop is on a 5-7 year cycle, the iPads and laptops on a 3-6 year cycle, and I’m still learning what the Watch replacement cycle will look like. In any given year, I’m only going buy one, maybe two of these devices. But I’m not going to throw out my desktop because I buy a new laptop, or stop having a phone because my watch now has cellular connectivity.

Personally, adding cellular connectivity to my watch is way down the list of desired improvements I’d like to see. I think Apple has already nailed the experience of using the watch without the the phone. Basically, the only time I don’t want my phone is when I’m working out, and the watch already keeps track of my workout, plays music to my Airpods, tracks my location and pays for a quick post workout drink or snack without my phone. Other than messaging, that’s literally all the things I can imagine wanting to do while working out. For that matter, if I’m actually wanting to message, I’m probably at a gym where my phone is nearby in my gym bag, so I actually have wireless connectivity anyway. At this point, most gyms should be offering wifi as well.

The result of adding cellular connectivity is the watch is bulkier, the battery life doesn’t last through a full day, and the since the antennae are actually in the band itself, you cannot replace the battery. To me, all three of these are complete non-starters. I’m an owner of the 38 mm watch, I have small wrists, and the 42 mm watch already looks and feels ridiculous to me on my wrist. I get that it’s a stylistic preference, but I know I’m not in the minority in feeling these gigantic watches are not stylish. 

II’ve been wearing the watch for 12 hours already and while I’ve never done an official workout, I have used it for all sorts of things through out the day as always and my battery life is currently at 84%. The battery life on the device is so great in fact, I have completely disabled the ability for me to check my battery life from the watch itself. The only reason I check it is to show off to people that I never, ever need to care about my battery life, and so I can check it from the notification center on my phone in that 6 times-a-year scenario.

One of the primary reasons I’m never awake without wearing my watch is because the bands are switchable. I have no desire to workout with anything but a sport band, but I never want to wear the sport band if I’m not working out or in water. The fact that I can choose between various leather bands, the Milanese loop and the various nylon bands makes it so no matter how dressed up or dressed down I want to be, or how outrageous the coloring of my current outfit is, I can find an option that works. Beyond that, adding the cellular connectivity to the band results in it being less flexible, and if the Microsoft band is any indication, likely will greatly increase the odds that the band itself breaks. Quite simply, a watch that doesn’t allow me to easily swap bands cannot be a watch I wear everyday from wake to sleep.

Speaking to this device more specifically, as the screenshots of the UI highlight, round faces on smart watches are a terrible user experience. Round faces are great for one thing, reading an analog watch face. Now personally, I actually love analog watch faces, and despite having a digital device on my wrist, 6 of my 11 watch faces use analog hands to display the time. That said, on all of those watch faces, any time I’m using the watch to do anything other than glance at the time, I’m actually glad it’s square. 

The complications all fit better and are more glanceable as they can be tucked in the corners. Messaging; setting alarms timers and reminders; getting directions; starting a workout; controlling my Apple TV or home kit devices; adjusting my music; and everything else I do with my watch all work way better on a square screen. Having worn an Apple Watch for nearly 2 years straight, I now think they square form factor looks incredibly stylish. Sure, if I were to buy a non-smart watch as an additional accessory, it’d almost certainly be round, but that’s because it’s not a computing device, its solely a time piece.

One of the big highlights of Android 2.0 is that its added NFC payments and Google Assistant. The process for using NFC payments is to open the app from the app launcher, wait a few seconds, and then select payment and scan it. Nothing about that process sounds magical, and I’m just going to pay with my phone unless I’m working out and don’t have it with me. Conversely, with the Apple watch I double tap the one dedicated button and move my wrist toward the payment center. That’s magic and its a huge selling point for the watch.

Similarly with Google Assistant, as the article highlights, its basically useless because it takes a few seconds to load the app. Again, in contrast to Siri where all I do is long press the crown and she’s up and ready to help.

I know people keep mentioning these devices will get faster over time, but no matter how instantly the app loads, if I’m having to go to an app launcher to get to the right app, it’s going to be slower than if I can access it in one tap or dedicated button press. One of the beautiful things about the advancement of complications on the Apple Watch, and why I have 11 separate watch faces to swipe between, is that each of them display a couple complications that are specifically tailored to what I’m doing at that time. 

I have watch faces for laying on the couch; for working out; for when I’m walking around in public; for driving, for cooking; and for enjoying a night out on the town. Each of these grant me access to the specific complications I’d need for those activities. The result is that I never, ever have to go to an app launcher. For me, the biggest feature for the Apple Watch to add would be for it to contextually know what I was doing based on my location and automatically switch to the appropriate face.

All in all, this specific watch and the new features of android wear all seem like complete busts to me. I wont be the least bit surprised when a year from now, there is still only an Apple Watch market for smart watches, and slowly wrist wearables in general, and these features have virtually no impact on the sales landscape for the category.