Ready for the next batch of smartwatches? Wearables running on Google's Android Wear platform are coming, but what makes them so smart?
Every few weeks we catch up with Vodafone’s resident futurologist Patrick Harrison-Harvey about the tomorrow’s mobile tech. He’s the man who sees the phones and accessories we’ll soon be stocking, months before anyone else at Vodafone.
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This time round we’re diverting the attention from our pockets to our wrists, in a bid to unravel the future of wearable tech and smartwatches. Now that Google has shown Android Wear to the world, what role does Patrick think wearables will have in our lives?
The next wave
“I’ve checked out two products that run Android Wear,” says Patrick. “For me, the new platform makes a definite difference.”
Android Wear is Google’s take on wearable computing – a platform for smartwatches that works with your phone to provide contextual notifications and a wealth of new abilities. Patrick tells us that, from what he’s seen, it’s a smart approach:
“The way previous smartwatches have worked is that they’ve tried to treat a small screen like a phone. That give you the same kind of experience as a smartphone, in that there’s a homescreen with apps on it. But the way that Android Wear works is different. It means you can tailor the experience better to the smaller screen.”
You can see it in action here:
“I’m excited to get my hands on something like the Moto 360. The information on that is very simple and glanceable, and very context-based. The navigation, for example, is better than anything before it. Right now we’ve got to walk around looking at our phones, following ourselves on online maps, but an Android Wear device can just flash up ‘cards’ and buzz to tell you to turn right or left. That way you don’t need to hold anything and look at it all the time, and it makes that kind of experience more bitesize.”
Google and its Android Wear manufacturing partners may have shown off a range of new devices to support the platform, but where is it headed? Patrick believes that the true future of wearables is in devices that allow us to leave our phone at home:
“Android Wear allows for devices that are all self-contained. At the moment most smartwatches rely on your phone, but in the future there’ll be devices with their own SIMs, allowing them to work independently from your smartphone.
“If you go running and you’ve got to take your big phone with you, for instance, it defeats the point of the watch. The ideal would be a device that could operate completely on its own, but then also talk to your phone when it’s within range to share your data.
“Every manufacturer – bar none – will be in the smartwatch game…”
“Currently, I still haven’t seen a lot of designs outside of a watch-type device from a wearable tech point of view, and I think every manufacturer – bar none – will be in the smartwatch game, and the test will be whether iOS or any other platform has a different take on it from Android.”
But the design and onscreen approach is only one half of the story. The other? Getting the price just right…
“If you get pricing wrong and you go too high without looking premium enough as a product, no one’s going to buy your device. Thats because you can get a really decent normal watch for a few hundred pounds, which lots of people might prefer as jewellery, and,” Patrick jokes, “people tend not to wear two watches.
“People are going to want the quality of a watch, but at the same kind of costs and with the same kind of abilities as the current brand of fitness wristbands, so it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.”
Playing our part
But whatever the price, a new wave of smartwatches is coming. And they’ll all be making a big splash in 2014 and beyond, says Patrick:
“Smartwatch adoption is inevitably going to grow. It’s been on the precipice of a big boom period for a while, but I still think it’s waiting for some really life-changing products. People can make these kinds of things for a while, but then one manufacturer gets it rights it booms and takes off for everyone.”
And, thankfully, Vodafone will be there to guide you through that boom, and to help you find your perfect future smartwatch:
“You’ll be seeing a lot more from Vodafone in terms of accessories…”
“You’ll be seeing a lot more from Vodafone in terms of accessories,” Patrick tells us, “which is going to be really cool – seeing how we link up with other people’s products. The whole experience of pairing a high end smartphone with the right accessories is important.
“It’s about bringing that story together more for people, and you can only really do that through what you do in stores.
“If you’ve bought into a certain ecosystem, you’ll want the accessory that works with your devices. But it’s up to us to tell that story,” he says in closing, “and to say that if you’ve got one device, then a certain other will work seamlessly with it.”
The future of phone screens… Are you ready for phones that flex and fold? According to Patrick, that’s what’s just around the corner. Get the inside story here. Let us know what you think of Android Wear smartwatches in the comments section below. Will you be buying one?