With the Apple Watch launch almost upon us—the device ostensibly goes on sale starting Friday, but supply is limited with preorders already stretching out into July—Google has gone on an interesting little offensive, reminding people that Apple Watch isn’t the only game in town. You see, Google has its own wearable platform called Android Wear.
The battle lines here are pretty clear cut, and closely mimic what we see in smart phones. On the one hand, we have the open, more diverse and more affordable Google offering, and on the other the closed, high-quality and luxurious Apple offering.
Apple is already the presumptive winner here, in the sense that Apple Watch will most likely quickly establish itself as the best-selling wearable product of all time. (And let’s be clear about the meaning of “wearable” here. I’m referring to connected, electronic wearable devices, not shirts and shoes.) But my guess is that while Apple Watch will indeed be the best-selling device, Android Wear overall will win out, volume wise, as Android has done against iPhone.
To ensure this happens, Google needs to counter the free marketing tsunami that the mainstream press is giving Apple Watch. As a veteran observer of Microsoft’s failed efforts at doing so, I know that this is a losing proposition. But it’s trying.
Last week, Google started talking up the fashion end of Android Wear, a fairly obvious change given Apple’s emphasis on this with Apple Watch. It noted that there are over one thousand different watch faces available for Android Wear, which isn’t just about personalization in a wallpaper sense, but rather a way for users to match their clothes, moods, or interests too.
And this week, Google started talking up some coming updates to Android Wear that will further differentiate the platform from Apple Watch. These include:
Adaptable display, for apps too. Android Wear displays are always-on, which Google has parlayed into a benefit: you don’t need to tap, twist or shake the device to see what time it is. But Google is also expanding always-on to apps, so that they can stay visible instead of disappearing when you drop your arm. But they will adapt: the app will only be in full color when you’re actively looking at it, and will move into a black and white mode otherwise, saving battery life.
Wi-Fi support. One of the big criticisms of Apple Watch is how dependent it is on a paired iPhone. Android Watch supports integrated GPS and offline music, which is ideal for runners or other activity trackers. But Android Wear now supports watches with built-in Wi-Fi too. So you can continue to get notifications, send messages, and use all your favorite apps even when your phone isn’t nearby.
Wrist gestures. You will be able to flick your wrist to scroll through notifications and other items in your stream, ideal for those times when your hands are full and you can’t touch the screen.
Quick access to apps and contacts. The apps and contacts lists will be available on a pivot of sorts from the primary watch display. Just tap the screen to move between these views.
Draw emojis on-screen. You can now draw right on screen while texting and Android Wear will convert it into the correct emoji.
Google notes that these changes are coming soon to several new Android Wear devices, starting with the LG Watch Urbane, an all metal luxury watch. Plus, it’s round, which we all know is the correct shape for a watch.