Last year, Google announced Android Wear, an operating system for smartwatches and other wearable gadgets. For its ambitious project, the company roped in popular hardware manufacturers including Intel, MediaTek, Qualcomm, Samsung, HTC, ASUS, LG, Broadcom and others. One year later, what was destined to set the tone for smartwatches, a step up from rival Pebble, and conquer the nascent market even before Apple had a chance, only a handful of companies have shown trust in Android Wear so far, and the number instead of going up has dipped. What is wrong with Android Wear? Also Read - watchOS 8 announced: You Apple Watch gets lots of new health features and moreAlso Read - Apple Watch can soon measure blood pressure, blood glucose and alcohol level: Report
The initial response to Android Wear was quite exciting. In the first phase, Samsung launched the Gear Live, LG had its G Watch followed by the G Watch R, Motorola had the stunning Moto 360 and even Asus announced the ZenWatch. Sony too caught up with its SmartWatch 3 last year. Sounds pretty good, right? Also Read - iOS 14.5 update: How to unlock your Apple iPhone with the face mask on
But for some reason Google isn’t able to retain its hardware partners. After the Gear Live, Samsung dumped Android Wear for its own Tizen OS. It is expected to announce its first smartwatch with a round face, called Orbis, tomorrow alongside the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. The Orbis too is expected to run on Tizen.
LG too is moving away from Android Wear. Earlier in the week LG revealed that its sexy Urbane smartwatch, which too is being debuted at MWC, won’t run on Android Wear either. Asus too has said the next ZenWatch won’t run on Android Wear while the first generation hasn’t yet been on store shelves in many markets.
Google was expected to supersede Pebble from the top, and attain the same status it has in the smartphone market. But despite facing only a handful of rivals — Pebble being the most notable — Android Wear s shipment figures aren t impressive. At the end of 2014, only 720,000 units of Android Wear units were shipped. Which doesn t sound as bad until you check Pebble s 600,000 units sales figure between March and December last year.
Pebble launched its first smartwatch in 2013 and has sold more than a million units. The company earlier this week announced Pebble Time, the third-generation smartwatch from Pebble. The craze for Pebble s smartwatch was evident in its Kickstarter campaign. The company had pledged for $500,000 goal, and in just two days it has gleaned over 50,000 backers raising more than $11 million.
What went wrong for Android Wear?
If Android Wear-powered smartwatches aren t faring as well, it is Google and its partners themselves that are to be blamed. Like Android smartphones, Android Wear smartwatches seem to be guzzling the tiny batteries that can be accommodated in the limited space. Some smartwatches, like the Moto 360, reportedly needs to be charged twice a day at times.
Then there is the problem of differentiation. Unlike Android for smartphones, where Google gives its hardware partners the ability to customize the user interface, there is no such provision on Android Wear. With little or no customization, there isn’t much that manufacturers can do to differentiate their smartwatches. It is very similar to the Windows Phone situation with little or no incentive for the manufacturer.
For users, the big question was what could an Android Wear smartwatch do beyond something that could relay notifications from a phone in their pocket to a watch slapped on their wrist. Some could also count steps they took with some degree of accuracy, monitor pulse rates provided they stood still while taking the reading or click some blurry photos. None of these tasks were executed perfectly and at times they couldn’t even relay notifications reliably as some reviews suggest. And users were expected to charge them every night along with their phone.
The first generation of Android Wear smartwatches failed to capture the user’s imagination. The Moto 360 was probably the only smartwatch some lusted after but it too came with the same compromises and then one more – it wasn’t a complete circular display. The Pebble, meanwhile, did fewer things but these were things that mattered and it did them reliably. It didn’t hurt that it was cheaper than most Android Wear smartwatches and worked with both Android and iOS smartphones.
But it isn’t the end of the road for Android Wear. Far from it. As we have seen in the smartphone space we now know that platforms evolve at a rapid pace and companies aren’t afraid to implement learnings from their rivals at the cost of being accused of taking inspiration. With Apple Watch launching on March 9 and Google I/O a couple of months later, we hope Google is able to find out why people should buy Android Wear smartwatches.