Google I/O Apple may be winning the PR war with its Watch, but Google thinks an open platform, and some nifty Android Wear software, can give it the edge in the smartwatch world.
At its annual Google I/O developers shindig in San Francisco, the Chocolate Factory said in the first year of Android Wear the operating system has been updated four times and there are now over 4,000 Wear apps in its software store, including more than 1,000 watch face designs.
"Checking the time is a really cool function of smartwatches," said David Singleton, engineering director of Android Wear, slightly tongue in cheek. "It's glance-able, actionable, and effortless, and we want other Wear apps to be the same."
A new build of Wear will be out in the next few weeks, he promised, and showed off some of the applications Google thinks will make Apple users think twice before shelling out. If the apps don’t do it then new hardware might, and by the end of the year there will be 11 Wear-powered smartwatches on sale, he said.
Key to future apps is going to be freeing up Wear devices from having to be paired to a smartphone, he said. To that end, Wear supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and support for SIM cards will be added so gadgets can hook straight into the mobile network.
As for the apps themselves, Singleton touted new code for Google Fit, which will be able to work out if a user is walking, running or cycling, and calculate the correct number of calories being burned off, and also recognize and log exercises such as press ups and squat thrusts.
A new golfing app will be available for those who like to ruin a good walk. The application will monitor the swing of a golfer, and provide tips to improve players' strokes and posture.
The forthcoming update will also change the start screen, making it easier to scroll between applications, and will keep apps onscreen for as long as the user wants. Singleton touted this as an advantage if you wanted your shopping list to stay on your wrist in the supermarket, for example.
Gesture control is also being added, so that you can move between applications with a flick of the wrist. A cute idea, but we'd like to see how it will work in the real world.
Battery life, the bête noir of smartwatches, has also been addressed. The new version of Wear will include a low-power mode that reverts the screen to a monochrome display to cut the power consumption when the device is not in active use.
Singleton was bullish on the future prospects for Wear, saying that by allowing developers access to the wearables' sensors and other built-in gizmos, the apps that could be created were only limited by the imagination. Given the decidedly iffy response to the platform by people, clearly Google is hoping that someone, somewhere, will come up with a killer app. ®