Google rocked boats recently by announcing Android Wear. “What is Android Wear?” you ask? It’s a specialized version of Android designed to run on wearable computers. Right now, we’ve already seen two Android Wear devices slated for release in Q2 of 2014 – the square LG G Watch and the round Moto 360. These watches will pair with any Android handset running Android 4.3 or greater. This is a refreshing change from smart watches such as the Galaxy Gear which restrict the owners to pairing with the few compatible Galaxy devices. Right now, both of the Android Wear devices publicly announced are currently considered “smart watches.” However, the name “Wear” means more product form factors will be explored in the near future according to the lead designer of Moto 360.
So what do we know about what these smart watches can do? We know they’ll do what all watches do – tell time – but there’s a lot more as well. Wear devices will have a voice-input button that will trigger a launcher somewhat like Google Now.
Click the image to the right or follow this link for a quick animated example of the Android Wear user-interface.
They’ll also be able to display a number of different notifications to the user at the flick of a wrist. We as app developers will be able to make these notifications deliver a user’s response back to an app on your phone. For example, we can present the user with a notification from a messenger app that lets the user click a button to open the associated app on a phone. There’s also a “Remote Input” feature that offers the user the ability to speak a message to the Wear device that will be sent to the app on the phone.
Notifications are just the start. According to Google, down the road we’ll be able to do the following:
- Create custom card layouts and run activities directly on wearables.
- Send data and actions between a phone and a wearable with a data replication APIs and RPCs.
- Gather sensor data and display it in real-time on Android wearables.
- Register your app to handle voice actions, like “OK Google, take a note.”
What’s more, Google is working with an impressive list of hardware partners including Fossil, Samsung, HTC, Asus, and Intel. With all of the work they’re doing, one might wonder why they focused on notifications first. The most pressing reason is that this will affect every existing and upcoming Android device that offers notifications. Because this will affect so many apps, Google is trying to give us time to get our apps ready for the wrist. Regardless of whether your app was built with Wear in mind, users with Wear will be able to get your app’s notifications on their wrist. It’s in every app developer’s best interest to make sure that notifications are making their way to Wear.
Because this is so important for so many apps, we need to focus on how to interface with Android Wear correctly. Keep in mind that notifying users on their wrist is a powerful way to get information to the user, but it cannot be taken for granted. The goal is to give users information they need right when they need it. Users don’t want to be spammed with too many notifications. Instead, the focus should on maximizing signal and minimizing noise. For example, notifications shouldn’t vibrate unless they need the user’s urgent attention or action. A couple of examples that Google offers are a time-based reminder or a message from a friend. Similarly, a notification shouldn’t have sound unless there’s a good reason to. The goal with Wear is to make notifications glance-able. This means doing things like collapsing multiple notifications into a more compact view. There are five different priority buckets – Max, High, Default, Low, and Min. It’s important to know how to use these correctly. For more information on designing great notifications, read The Official Wear Design Guidelines.
We’re only scratching the surface of cool things that can be done to display information quickly while brushing disruptions aside conveniently. I’m excited to see what we can come up with next.