How Android Wear dodges the 'Glasshole' bullet

Google's Android Wear has a lot going for it -- including the fact that smartwatch users won't invite instant ridicule or worse.

We're still in the infancy of the age of smartwatches, but give Google credit for nudging the concept forward with its long-anticipated announcement of Android Wear.

With a little luck -- and a clever hardware design or two from Google's partners -- maybe we're about to bear witness to one of those Very Big Things that cross the tech horizon occasionally.

Maybe.

For now, all we have is a glitzy promotional video filled with a variety of bouncy, well-scrubbed -- and obviously well-heeled - folks living the bright future envisioned by Larry Page and Sergey Brin (particularly). No coincidence that Google's video clip showed a lot of bouncy athletic people as if they were plucked away from a Frisbee game on a tech campus in Northern California.

The talking points heralding Android Wear -- "useful information when you need it most, straight answers to spoken questions, the ability to better monitor your health and fitness, and your key to a multiscreen world" -- are just the sort of technocratic prescriptions you'd expect from Silicon Valley. Okay, they seem nice to have. Nowhere in the verbiage, though, is anything to convince the rest of us why an Android Wear-able would be a must-have item.

For now, this announcement was a PR plug for coming attractions that may or may not arrive. Android Wear relies heavily on functionality anyone using Android smartphones will recognize in Google Now -- and then some; one feature portrayed in the Google video has a cyclist using the smartwatch to open a garage door. Google Now doesn't do that currently. But you can envision how this might develop. So it is that a swimmer uses her smartwatch to receive a jelly fish warning while she was still on dry land. And given Google's recent acquisition of Nest, the company bringing thermostats and smoke detectors into the 21st century, the nexus between smartwatch and smart home isn't a stretch. A lot is going to change, obviously, but today's news points in fun directions.

Google also gets props for not bringing out another product that's going to invite popular derision, if not worse. You could be a veritable Mother Teresa but if you walk into a bar wearing Google Glass you just know that's an invitation to someone to beat you over the head like a baby seal. Okay, the two people on line in the video impulsively breaking into dance were annoying and I can envision scenarios where talking into your watch like a latter-day Dick Tracy might raise eyebrows. Still, it's a major advance in social etiquette over Glass and the rise of the "Glassholes."

It looks like LG may be first into the market. The Moto 360 watch is also expected by the summer. Myriad other consumer electronics manufacturers, including fashion brands like Fossil, also are lining up with Google.

"It's not the end of the game. It's just the beginning," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

Whoever can figure it out first will do well. A recent study of 23,000 consumers in 23 countries carried out by Accenture found that 46 percent of the people surveyed expressed interest in smartwatches. I should note the flop that was the Galaxy Gear, which was awkwardly oversized, hard to navigate, and expensive. (Samsung now says it knows what to do.)

Perhaps, as Milanesi noted, Google's official entry into the category with the introduction of a very simple user interface will help companies focus. But if past is prologue -- and product development cycles in the tech industry don't often deviate from the script -- it's still going to take a while before vendors reach the point where their merchandise makes our hearts go pitter-patter.

 

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