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June has been a big month for consumer wearable devices – it has seen the Salesforce announce the launch of Salesforce Wear to help build up a wearable-specific ecosystem geared primarily towards smartwatches and augmented vision devices. This month also saw Samsung’s announcement of the Samsung Z – the first smartphone to run on its proprietary Tizen OS, establishing a single platform for its growing family of Gear smartwatches, including the Gear 2, the Neo and the Gear Fit. However, the biggest buzz has come from this week’s announcements at Google’s I/O developer conference. Google had announced its wearable specific OS, Android Wear, in March, but gave more insight this week as to its capabilities and scope.
Google sees the world moving from your fingertips to your wrist
Contextual data proved a central theme at the presentation for Android Wear. Sundar Pichai, SVP for Android, Chrome and Apps noted that “people check their phones more than 150 times a day,” noting that these interactions often centered on simple pieces of information that require numerous steps, such as unlocking and entering passwords, to access. Google’s answer is to provide this information “quickly, at a glance,” and to supplement the process with voice-activated queries and commands using the familiar, “OK, Google” prompt. Improvements in contextual voice-based software from Apple, Google, and Microsoft for smartphones will be a major component of the new generation of smartwatches on the horizon, given the limited display size and interaction options. The trick, however, will be in balancing voice-activated and touch-based interactions that function seamlessly together and quickly; most interactions for the form factor take place within a 15-20 second timeframe.
As with smartphones, applications are key
For smartwatches and other wearable form factors to move beyond fitness-based fads, OEMs will need to support application development by providing APIs releasing SDKs to developers to support tighter and deeper integration. In the same way that desktop applications could not simply be shrunk down to work on a smartphone, mobile applications will need to be tailored to work with specific wearable form factors in a way that pairs well with other devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Having a robust selection of apps will help wearables to enter a broader slice of daily life and work to overcome the current social discomfort surrounding the devices (cue the numerous references to Dick Tracy or the Borg with Google Glass, or other augmented reality heads up displays).