At Google I/O, Android Wear Smartwatches Are On Full Display

Each day, people check their phones 150 times. Android Wear aims to make that process quicker and easier.


Google first teased its interface for wearables by releasing a video back in March. On Wednesday, the Silicon Valley search giant showed off more of Android Wear at its annual I/O developers conference, along with the first smartwatches that will run the software.


One of the major themes of I/O this year is extending its Android mobile operating system, which claims 1 billion active users, to other screens, including wearables, TVs, car infotainment systems, and even Chromebooks. Matias Duarte, vice president of design, said Google challenged itself to design not just for Android phones and tablets, but to “craft one consistent vision for mobile, desktop, and beyond.”

With Android Wear, the goal is to surface relevant and contextual notifications for brief interactions. After all, Google says people check their phones more than 150 times a day–that adds up to more than 100 billion times a day cumulatively, according to Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android. “We want to bring the right information to you at the right time,” he said. “We want the experience to be seamless–it shouldn’t matter what device you were using before.”

Android Wear is designed to support both rectangular and round screens, and can surface information, such as weather, commute time, shipping tracking, and other details for glancing. If an app downloaded from Google Play has a version for Android Wear, it will automatically download to the smartwatch. The interface can also let users accept and reject calls, send canned text messages, control music, and display codes for scanning (such as boarding passes)–directly from the wrist. Making up for the smartwatches’ small screens, Android Wear relies heavily on voice commands, so users can add reminders or ask questions that begin with “OK Google.” Notifications can also be silenced with a Do Not Disturb feature, accessed by swiping down on the display.

However, unlike the new Material Design Google is pushing, Android Wear relies on cards that are largely one-dimensional, which Co.Design writer Mark Wilson notes might be the “dumb[ing] down of the UI for devices with less processing power.”

Already, a number of companies have built apps for Android Wear. With e-hailing app Lyft, wearers can summon a ride by saying “OK Google, call me a car.” The screen will display traffic conditions, estimated time of arrival, and let riders rate their drivers. “It’s almost like you’re able to talk across the city directly to the driver,” product designer Bob Ryskamp said.


As with Android smartphones, location is a major context cue for Android Wear, which relies heavily on Google Now. For example, Pinterest can send an alert to the smartwatch if it detects a nearby restaurant shared by a friend on the social network.

With food delivery service Eat24, smartwatch owners can order meals for takeout or delivery. The interface can even streamline the process by resurfacing frequent orders from favorite restaurants. The social recipe app AllTheCooks can display recipes and directions–even set up timers from the wrist.

PayPal, which already built payments apps for Samsung’s Gear 2 and Gear Fit, said its app will let users pay and redeem offers from the watch. An app from real-estate company Trulia can surface information of homes on sale, and users can favorite homes or call agents from the spot.

One of the better moments of the Android Wear demo was when an locked Android smartphone detected a connected Android Wear smartwatch nearby, automatically unlocking the phone without entering a PIN. Compatible smartwatches can also function as a remote to control Android TV-enabled sets.

In a breakout session about wearables, Google designers also talked about possible scenarios: Airlines could display earned miles, and hotels could give users options, such as late checkout, from the watch. And of course, consumers can track their health, fitness, and nutrition. “It’s kind of like you’re right-clicking on the world,” said staff designer Alex Faaborg.

Samsung Gear LivePhoto by Alice Truong for Fast Company

Unveiled at I/O, Samsung’s Gear Live watch sports a 1.63-inch screen (320 by 320 pixels), 1.2 GHz processor, 4 GB of storage, 512 MB of RAM, and a optical heart rate monitor. This will be Samsung’s fifth smartwatch, and it will retail for $200.

LG’s G Watch, which debuted in March, will also feature a square form factor. Under its 1.65-inch display (280 by 280 pixels) are a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, 4 GB of storage, and 512 MB of RAM. It will sell for $230.

Breaking from the pack, Motorola’s Moto 360 watch includes a circular display and wireless charging capabilities. Details of its specs are still under wraps–including sensors, processor, screen type, price, and availability–but reports suggest it will feature a low-power OLED screen and could retail for about $250.

Customers can place orders for the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch beginning today, and the Moto 360 later this summer.

About the author

Based in San Francisco, Alice Truong is Fast Company's West Coast correspondent. She previously reported in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and most recently Hong Kong, where she (left her heart and) worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal