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Android Wear and Google Glass - Review after a few months

Topics
glass, Google, samsung, wear, wearable

I have been living with an Android Wear watch (Samsung Gear Live) for a few months and with Google Glass for one month. Here are few thoughts on using them in everyday life.

Android Wear

Android Wear is the new wearable platform from Google and it was a bit surprising that Samsung was one of the first manufacturers to release a device for it since they have their own Tizen-based wearable platform and devices like Samsung Gear 2 and Gear Fit already on the market. Interesting to see if they will continue both or focus only on one.

Android Wear is all about contextually relevant information, information that is relevant to you then and there. This is an interesting design challenge for us service creators. At first you struggle to find use for the watch after the initial "ooh let's switch the clock face again"-phase but like anything it's all about the apps. When you start getting apps that support Android Wear you get richer notifications on your wrist. Google's term is "glanceable information". The aim is that you get a notification and glance at it and then make a quick decision to either dismiss it or take a quick action on it strait on your wearable e.g. voice dictate a reply. If it needs your attention more you can open your phone in the correct app in the correct place from the notification.

It's no surprise that Google's own apps are the first to support the Wear. You get notifications from Google Now, Gmail and Hangouts on your wrist and can take quick actions on them. You can answer or dismiss and incoming call and I just love it when I get a message in Hangouts from my girlfriend and I can just voice reply to her in a matter of seconds: "I'm on my way, I'll be there in 5 minutes" Another useful thing for me has been the notifications about disruptions in the public transport in London from an app I use for planning routes. You also get notifications from apps that don't support the Wear directly but it's not as rich since it only shows you the app icon and a short blurb of the content.

I travel quite a lot and pay for TripIt to handle mining and parsing all my itineraries from my email and actually for traveling the Android Wear is quite handy. Whenever I'm on the go I get notifications on my wrist saying e.g. that "Your flight is boarding in 30 minutes" so you know to finish your pint and get a move on :) I also appreciate Google Now notifications from my calendar events like "You have to get going to be in Victoria in time for your meeting at 2p.m." or "Your Kabbee/Über is arriving in a few minutes".

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The battery life on these devices is really poor since they are essentially running the same hardware as a smartphone but are a lot smaller. This makes battery life a challenge. So now when you get home you have not one but two (three if you count the Glass) devices to charge. You are lucky to get a normal day's worth of usage currently. To make matters worse, on the Samsung Gear Live the charging "dock" is so flimsy that the small plastic edge holding it in place broke after a few weeks and now I have to use a rubber band to hold it in place.

Google Glass

On to Google Glass. Google has been really smart in that they've released an early prototype device in a totally new niche market so the public can test, get ideas and feedback on what people would like to do with it. Let's face it this is only the very first iteration on the matter and it's a bit bulky and awkward. But it's only the start. There are a few other players coming out already with their own versions including Lenovo with their C1. Also companies like Epson have their own Android-based (not the same as Glass) smartglass devices like the BT-200 but they are aimed more at b2b uses.

Once you get over the self-conscious feeling that everybody is staring at you (which they probably are) you start to pay more attention to what you can do with it. At first you spend your time taking photos and videos because it's the obvious way to start. I have to say that the camera is quite good, you get clear pictures and especially with video it's great. Image stabilization and image clarity are really good for device of this size. Once you've registered the device with your Google account, it's just a matter of a few clicks to upload photos or videos to Google+ or YouTube either publicly or privately. One interesting use case I've actually used the camera for is when you are e.g. at an electronics store and you scan the barcode with the RedLaser-app of a gadget you are thinking of buying and it gives you the price and availability on e.g. Amazon for you to compare.

Another use I've found here in London is navigation. Since it's a big place it's really nice to get navigation directions in the corner of your eye and in your earpiece when you are walking so you can keep your phone in your pocket. This is especially useful when you are cycling and you can command the device with voice.

The battery life in Glass is possibly even worse than the Gear Live. Fortunately being a gadget geek I'm used to carrying an extra 8000mAh of batteries with me all the time. They've come in handy many times when on the road.

With both devices your smartphone is still at the center of things. Both Wear and Glass connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Glass can use a WiFi directly but the only connectivity the Wear has is through your phone. You have Android Wear and MyGlass apps on the phone that control some of the settings on the devices and with Glass it also controls which apps you install on the device. With Wear you don't install apps separately but when you install an app that has Wear support on your phone it automatically syncs the Wear-part to your device.

In summary I think that this is a really interesting technology enabler and we are only at the beginning. The devices currently are awkward and bulky but that's to be expected for generation zero. I think the next few years will see massive growth in this space and we as service creators need to start thinking about how to provide value to existing and new use cases on these platforms. This is what makes working on the bleeding edge (and at Futurice) so interesting.  And by the way we have open positions if you are interested. Check out Working at Futurice.