While the Apple Watch isn’t due out until next year, watches running Google’s Android Wear have been out for four months now. Today, Android Wear watches will see their first major update and the company tells us that they’ve learned a lot in that time.
Most notably, the watches, which currently depend entirely on a Bluetooth-connected smartphone to operate, will get a new offline mode that will allow you to track a run via GPS or listen to music–all without having to take your phone along. Android Wear Director David Singleton calls these phoneless moments “sometimes connected experiences.”
“We think this starts to lay the building blocks for something that will happen more and more,” Singleton tells Co.Design. “There will be times you have your phone, and times you just have your watch.”
But other changes will stem from the greater lesson they’ve learned in the last four months, that users are falling into two camps–those who view a smartwatch as a means to disconnect, and those who feed on the constant, digital drip of every email, SMS, and notification that comes in. And while sounds paradoxical, and even unhealthy, Singleton believes that both of these use cases ease the anxiety of their respective users in their own ways.
“We actually started to notice this [divide] internally developing the products. We knew before we launched, there was a set of users who felt being hyperconnected was something they wanted strongly,” Singleton explains. “[Knowing] there’s nothing urgent helps them feel really relaxed. Wrapping our head around that–it was something we had to learn. And it’s something we’ve come to see as people purchase the devices.”
Truth be told, that’s entirely the type of user that Android Wear launched to support. It’s relatively easy, after all, to give someone a stream of everything. Being smart and selective is a lot more difficult.
“In the second camp, the folks want to be connected, but they work more in triage mode,” Singleton continues, “which means, it’s great for me to be able to know if any urgent interruptions came in, like a phone call, or SMS from my wife. But other stuff, maybe my email, I’m happy to deal with later.”
For this camp–the camp I might be so bold as to call most of us–the Android Wear team has done a few things. First, they’ve used this knowledge to inform the development of Google’s new Android L smartphone software. The team built a feature called Priority Notification Mode, in which a user can be very specific to, say, receive all calls that come in, no emails, and just the SMS from a few important people.
Additionally, Android Wear has a new “peeking card” watch face mode that makes notifications appear, not as a card that takes up most of the screen, but a subtler tab that you can pull on to expand or swipe away to dismiss.
“We talked at I/O about bringing Android to more screens…and we think about the same users going about their live across more devices. Their distinct needs don’t change, but we have to provide them [the right amount of] information across contexts,” Singleton says. “[With Android Wear] it was a core design goal of ours for people to stay more present in their real world engagement, but that doesn’t necessarily mean cutting down their engagement with their emails. “