Google on Wear 2.0: “We’re listening very closely to our developers” (and that’s the problem with Wear)

Why on earth does a smartwatch need a speaker? Or a ridiculous, microscopic keyboard? And this idea that a smartphone needs to be “standalone” and function just like a smartphone?!

I think I learned the answer: This morning I watched the Android Wear 2.0 deep dive at the Google I/O conference now happening in Mountain View.

There, after giving a demo of that ridiculous, microscopic watch keyboard that no one ever asked for (exception below), a slightly nervous presenter said, “We’re listening very closely to our developers.”

Oh no. Therein lies the problem.

Granted, I/O is a developer conference. Google should be embracing the people who build apps, and ultimately help promote the various flavors of Android.

My suspicion, however, is that the Wear team in particular is soliciting too much feedback from developers on where its two year old OS should go next. Hence: a smartwatch with an unneeded speaker, and a ridiculous, microscopic keyboard.

Instead, Google should be doubling down on the end user. The likes of us who may or may not want to buy the product. Polling this audience will undoubtedly result in far different feature requests and hopefully instill some sanity into the prioritization process at Mountain View HQ.

I Present to You: Keyboard Hell

Android Wear QWERTY keyboard Hell
Something none of us normal people ever wanted: a full QWERTY keyboard on a 1.4-inch screen.

Another good place to start: the Google Play Store itself.

Check out the reviews for Google’s very own Wear app — the one required to pair an iOS or Android phone with a Wear-based smartwatch. It’s gets ugly real fast. Connection issues. Bugs. Crashes. This is a two year old app, made by Google, and it’s very evident all is not so peachy in the promised land.

Anyone who checks in to Stark Inside from time to time, know I’m a die-hard Android guy. I like the openness. I like that I can occasionally geek out and flash a ROM when I’m looking for cheap thrills. And I like key Google apps — Gmail and Calendar in particular — better than their counterparts on the iPhone.

Still, I have to scratch my head sometimes.

Who is in charge on these Android teams? And why, on earth, are they so-so, overly, dangerously engineering-centric? I think the answer was clear for all to see today at I/O.

Yes, developers and customers are both essential.

When it comes to Wear, I just wish Google would demonstrate it has a better grasp of the latter. Hint: Even poor Little Pebble seems to understand the critical nature of this balance.

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  • Stuart Filson

    Q: Why does a smartwatch have a speaker?
    A: Notifications, communication, general audio feedback.

    Q: The QWERTY keyboard?
    A: Gesturing and word prediction. The intention is not that you’re typing out screenplays on your watch. QWERTY is simply an option that ideally will be or already has been followed up by better alternatives. Imagine if the battery of your paired device died on you and for whatever reason, you really wanted to use a keyboard. Well then, use your smartwatch; it’s there if you want it (cue segue to next point).

    Q: Why should a smartwatch function as a standalone device?
    A: Why shouldn’t it? It’s a watch, so it should be at least able to carry out basic functionality without needing a parental guardian (the almighty smartphone). Non-Android users and many fitness enthusiasts are suffering from this very reason.

  • Pete Caldwell

    I dont get why the keyboard is such a point of contention. I for one have been wishing for the functionality since day 1 with my first Moto360 (and later Urbane, and current Huawei Watch). So many times a quick txt message turned into a pain because i couldnt get voice input to correctly type something unusual – an address, phone number, etc. And when WiFi became an option – how ridiculous that only previously used networks could be accessed? When i forget my phone and only have my watch is *precisely* when i most need access to WiFi but cant access it because DOH! Enter the password on your phone! Maddening and senseless. Having a keyboard – even a tiny one – is a godsend for situations like these and many others.

    I personally consider Android Wear 2.0’s forcing the user to press the hardware button the big offense of 2.0 (1.x accomplished this with a back swipe, leaving the hardware button and different numbers of clicks to perform some slick functions w/o even needing to see the screen – lets hope Google realizes this approach in 1.x was far superior and adopts it for 2.0’s official release). The keyboard is by far a welcome tool for the few times one really needs it. No one wants to type a document on theor watch of course – but when i need specific input as detailed above, I need specfic input. And now that I’ve used Android Wear Dev Preview 2.0 I’m impressed at how well the keyboard works. Its surpringly good, and using the glide feature which ises predictiveinput, it is even faster, but still you can tap out specific letters. If you dont want it, itnore it. But it’s there if needed.

    And “if needed” is the answer to your question of “Why a keyboard on a watch? ” The watch OS isnt forcing you to use it. You can pretend its not even there if it offends, and even just keep pulling out your phone as you would have to do with AW, Wear 1.x or Pebble.

    And if Pebble is your ideal watch OS, then good on you for having it, but apart from battery life, I found nothing superior about Pebble’s experience. I find it ‘simple’ only in that it more or less completely excludes any of the advanced capabilties of AndWear or the Apple Watch, including even a Touch screen! If people can remember which Pebble button to push, then surely which direction to swipe in Android Wear cant be too taxing?

    Again, i think it is truly great that we have choices as consumers, but for anyone who wants more from their watch, Android Wear offers it and is offering more with 2.0 as it will become a full fledged individual, not just a tiny second screen to your phone. Who wouldnt want the choice of more capabilities? Its not like you have to use any of the Advanced options – they are they for power users, but those who wosh can stick to notifications and the odd voice command or question like Pebble (it reminds me of the few times ive paired my old 360 with my iPad or coworkers iPhones. Its such a watered down experience that I cant see the appeal, but certainly you could get the same on Android Wear by simply ignoring most of what it can – and Pebble simply cant – do).

    In closing, its like saying “Dont allow any advanced tools for anyone else because I dont see the purpose.” Given, most consumers havent really adopted Wear in droves – the name itself throws most people who ask about my watches ( “Android Where? You mean Android Everywhere, even on your watch?” Wear is a silly moniker, and marketing types will tell you the importance of branding). Google is doing right by adding more capabilities, not restricting them. And given the shaky state of Pebble, I dont think their overly simplistic approach is what most people want either, especially now that more consumers are being exposed to smartwatches and what they can do, most of which Pebble devices cant. Im not dissing them – they were one of the first true smartwatches, but like Palm of old, they simply have not kept up with the competing platforms. In other words, yesterday’s “simple” platform is tomorrow’s “incapable” platform.

    But for now, there is a choice, and as consumers try out competing wearable OSs and educate themselves on this still-new-to-the-masses niche gadgetry, I for one will be interested to see where the mainstream adoption resides in a couple years. My prediction is much the same as Smartphones – AppleWatch for most iPhone Users, AndWear for most Android users. Fitbit for those who dont much care about anything outside of fitness, but I personally dont consider those in the same league as Smartwatches. We shall see. In the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying Dick Tracy wrist computing.