Two years ago, we thought that a smartwatch is just another accessory for a smartphone. In all fairness, the smartwatch, as a tech innovation, started out in life with limited functions. It was good enough for checking your notifications without having to pull out the phone. It could also show calendar alerts, and help deliver voice commands to the phone. And of course, it also borrowed many features from fitness trackers, which had been in existence for some time in the same form-factor. Incorporating those features into the smartwatch was not a difficult task. However, with each successive update, we kept asking, is this all that the smartwatch can do? Will the smartwatch always be just another accessory?
So here we are, two years later, at a time when Google has launched Android Wear 2.0, the latest software for smartwatches on the Android platform. Here are are again, asking the same question. Has the smartwatch evolved being beyond just another accessory?
The simple answer would be a no. It’s still a device that needs a phone to be fully functional. It’s still another screen on your wrist, for convenience’s sake. However, in the bigger scheme of things, the smartwatch has become far more functional with Android Wear 2.0. Here are a few reasons why you’d want to pull the phone out of your pocket far fewer times
Better with Assistant
With Android Wear 2.0, Google has brought the Google Assistant into the tiny device on your wrist, which we feel is a great addition. Google Assistant is a revamped, rebranded and reworked version of Google Now. It takes voice commands and does many, many things for you such as set alarms, check traffic, look up for recipes, play music, take down your shopping list, remind you of birthdays and meetings, and many more.
Google Now was always a part of Android Wear, but now with the Google Assistant the watch is going to become more useful. We see you asking, “what difference does it make? It’s still more or less the same thing.” And that’s a valid point.
There is an upside though. Google Assistant is now deeply integrated into Google’s own smartphones, and a wonderful thing called Google Home. If you have been living under the proverbial rock and don’t know what Google Home is, then it’s a device that is practically an assistant sitting on your bedside table or your mantelpiece. It’s a speaker, which has the Google Assistant built in, and while waking around the house you can just give it the same commands that we mentioned earlier.
So a smartwatch with Google Assistant on it can make a huge difference if you’re within the Google ecosystem. Let’s say you’re in the kitchen, and out of a Google Home’s listening range. Suddenly you remember that you are out of garlic, but cannot pick up your phone to issue a voice command because your phone is lying on the living room couch and your hands are covered in dough. You can now tell your watch to add it to your shopping list for the next day. The Android smartwatch, with Android Wear 2.0, simply becomes a very useful device in the entire Android ecosystem.
Apps – On its own
Like we mentioned before, we have always wondered if the smartwatch could be its own entity. Android Wear 2.0 has brought Google Play directly on to your wrist. From what we gather, all the popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and the lot will act as standalone apps on the smartwatches, without needing the phone too much. Another good thing is that you might soon be able to book an Uber too from a Google-powered smartwatch.
Minding your fitness
Of course, fitness tracking has always been at the core of smartwatch functionality, and Android Wear 2.0 has updated Android Fit, and supports apps like Strava and Runtastic. There are updated and better watch faces too, that claim to make in-watch navigation more convenient. Watch faces can be customized even more, to have the information of your choice to be displayed.
There’s one part of the update that we are very excited about, and that’s actually the one that doesn’t work in India yet. Android Wear 2.0, brings with it Android Pay. So if your smartwatch has an NFC chip, supports Android Wear 2.0, and has a credit card attached to your Google account, you can just make payments at an outlet that supports Android Pay. Not in India, though, because our banking regulations do not allow those kind of transactions yet. Still, it’s a good idea to be able to pay by tapping your wrist. We’ve come a long way in terms of payments, from moving the wallet to the mobile phone, and now from the phone to the watch.
So, are we there yet?
We are still a long way from the point where the smartwatch is an independent entity. It still doesn’t have its own soul. It’s more like Voldemort and his Horcruxes – the phone being Voldemort and wearables being his Horcruxes – only, these aren’t evil. If anything, they’re the opposite.
The smartwatch itself has its limitations because of its form factor, but has come a long way with improvements in software. It is not fair to say that the watch alone has evolved. Rather, it has evolved because the entire tech ecosystem has moved forward with deep integration of machine learning software. The phone, while in an apparent state of saturation (in terms of innovation), still remains the locus. We need both hardware and software innovations to cut the wearables’ umbilical cords, and yet keep them harmonically working in the same ecosystem.