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Why I feel bad for smartwatches and their limited future

Google Android Wear 2.0 attempts to address the old problems of smartwatches, says Rajiv Makhni

brunch Updated: Feb 25, 2017 23:41 IST
Rajiv Makhni
The new Google Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches
The new Google Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches

I feel really bad for smartwatches. I really do. They are small creatures, and young too – having been born just a few years ago – so earnest, trying so hard to attract you, trying to seduce you with their cute looks and shiny little bodies, working overtime to make sure you don’t abandon them, trying to conjure up that one reason why you will fall in love with them. Alas, little do they know that their time on earth is limited. Those poor tiny little creatures are almost dead. They just don’t know it yet!

I’m not going to bore you with statistics. Suffice to say that the smartwatch industry was supposed to be a 50 billion dollar business by 2020. Latest estimates have curtailed that by 70 per cent. Most people that have bought one (you poor suckers) can’t remember where they’ve kept it after they took it off one day and forgot to charge it. Most others who ‘always wanted one’ have taken it off their wish list. Most brands that were supposed to introduce their own smartwatches have shelved plans, and most that already have one have adopted a go-slow attitude for their next version.

The saviour is supposed to be the all new, major reboot smartwatch operating system – Google Android Wear 2.0. It’s the most serious relook at what a smartwatch can do. It’s supposed to correct every single thing that’s wrong with a smartwatch. Let’s see what new magic it brings to your wrist.

The AW 2.0 doesn’t need a phone to come alive

Breaking the connection

The coolest part of AW 2.0 is that it doesn’t need a phone to come alive. It has its own apps that work on the watch and its Play Store, and most of the new ones will have a built-in cellular connection. Breaking the umbilical cord with the smartphone is the smartest move up its sleeve. It also doesn’t matter now whether you’re on iOS or Android, the watch is a neutral, self-powered entity.

New interaction

The way you interact with a smartwatch is critical. And that’s undergone massive changes now. No more endless left and right swipes now, as pushing in the side button gets all your apps in a semicircle. You can now rearrange your apps in that arc, with your favourites right at the top. There’s also a bottom screen menu that has context-specific actions.

The AW2.0 has a keyboard, a handwriting recognition and smart replies to make messaging easier

A new friend

Yes, there’s a proper voice assistant now on the watch. ‘Hey’ or ‘OK Google’ will now work on your watch. It’s not as good as the one on Google Pixel but it’s not terrible either. It works with most accents and kind of works in a noisy environment too.

Complications

AW 2.0 calls its new watch faces complications, a term borrowed from classic Swiss watches. You can customise any face with multiple data from third-party apps and keep multiple watch faces ready for different uses. Just swipe to go from a night face to an office face or a workout face.

From me to you

Messaging is by far the most frustrating thing on a smartwatch. The small screen and limited input methods turn it to pure torture. AW 2.0 has multiple ways to reduce that torture. There’s a keyboard, a handwriting recognition where you draw single letters, and smart replies where responses are generated based on the message itself.

That fitness thing

For those who want a watch and not just a fitness band, AW 2.0 goes all out. The Google Fit integration measures almost anything you’re doing; it’s a great running app and an easy way to have your music playlists run from your home screen itself.

Smartwatches today are like cute puppies and yet no one picks them up

Notify me

Notifications are better managed as they don’t take up the whole screen. A smaller icon comes up and all the notification cards are behind that. Also, the notifications now have light, less jarring text against a dark background.

All in all, AW 2.0 is a real move forward, one that addresses most shortcomings of the previous versions. But it’s only addressing old problems and not solving new ones. Smartwatches are having a hard time because of low battery life and the lack of a killer reason why someone would invest time and money into discarding their regular watch and going with one that’s apparently smart! With all the new features, built-in cellular connection, WiFi, apps running within in AW 2.0, I doubt if it will have better battery life. And I don’t see a built-in killer reason either.

Smartwatches are like little puppies making that cute ‘take me home’ face, and yet no one picks them up. Such a shame!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, February 26

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