Updated: February 9, 2017 1:05:34 pm
Android Wear 2.0, the latest platform for smartwatches has officially been unveiled by Google. The first set of watches to be powered by Android Wear 2.0 are LG Watch Style and LG Watch Sport. The new watches will start rolling out in the US from February 10. Europe and Asia launch will follow later in February via the Google Store and select retail stores.
The launch of the new smartwatches and the latest Android Wear 2.0 platform comes at a time, when the wearables market, which includes smartwatches and fitness bands, is facing a tough time. We have already seen Pebble smartwatches being bought over by Fitbit. Pebble’s end was not surprising, but this was one of the first smartwatches to gain popular attention and for many early adopters it marked the end of an era. Now there are reports that Jawbone, another company known for its fitness wearables, might stop making these devices altogether. Nike Fuel had pulled out much earlier.
Android Wear 2.0 and LG’s latest smartwatches also come at a time when the market is totally dominated by the Apple Watch. A latest report from Canalys says Apple shipped 6 million of the new Watch Series 2 for Q4 2016, marking a 12 per cent yearly growth.
If you look at Canalys’ numbers, Apple Watch generated more than $2.6 billion in revenue and makes up 80 per cent of total smartwatch revenue. Cupertino’s market share in smartwatches was 50 per cent globally for the year, and it shipped over 11.9 million watches in 2016. “The Series 1’s lower entry price and Apple’s more focused fitness messaging made its Watch both more attainable and more relevant,” Canalys Jason Low said.
That’s a staggering control of a market, which doesn’t seem to be growing. Research firm IDC ‘s number had shown the smartwatch market declined by 51 per cent in Q3, 2016. But it won’t be all be bad news, or at least that’s what analysts are predicting. The launch of the new Android Wear 2.0 platform, along with Samsung’s Gear S3 watches are expected to see shipments go up.
With Android Wear 2.0, Google is putting the focus on new features, which has always been a concern with smartwatches, no matter what the platform. For most users, the novelty of a smartwatch wears off, once you realise the number of things you can do on it is limited. Plus, the watch is still tethered to the smartphone. Google is hoping to change that with Android Wear 2.0 to some extent.
The focus is on more informative watch faces, improved fitness features, more apps, and yes, the Google Assistant. For starters, Android Wear 2.0 will now show appointments, stock performance, fitness goals, or whatever else is deemed important by the user on the watch face. On the fitness front, it will track “weight-lifting reps, in addition to push-ups, sit-ups and squats,” along with the usual steps, pace, heart-rate, etc.
Cellular powered Android Wear watches will now have the ability to take calls, messages, stream music, which will be seen as an important addition by many. But perhaps the big addition is Google bringing more apps to Android Wear 2.0 with the new “on-watch Google Play Store.” Apps like “AccuWeather, Android Pay, Bring!, Foursquare, Google Fit, Google Messenger, Google Play Music, Lifesum, Robinhood, Runkeeper, Runtastic, Strava, Telegram, Uber and others” will now work on Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches.
Additionally, users will be able to dictate, type, draw an emoji for messages on the watch itself. There’s also the option of writing out your answer, though how convenient it will be on a small screen remains to be seen. Google says it will work with apps Facebook Messenger, Glide, Google Messenger, Hangouts, Telegram or WhatsApp, so it is covering all the important messaging apps. Remember the Apple Watch, Samsung’s Gear S3 (on Android) already let users do this.
Finally, Google Assistant will come to Android Wear 2.0 platform, which was expected, given the search giant wants its machine-learning powered voice-assistant on every device. Assistant will work like it does on Pixel phone or Google Home; users will be able to ask questions to the watch, ask it to make restaurant reservations, set up shopping list reminders, or navigate to work all with their Watch. For now Google Assistant will be available in English and German on Android Wear.
For Android Wear 2.0, more apps on the watch itself might mean enhanced use cases, and could free the user from relying on the phone for every little notification or action. For instance, if an Uber can be booked quickly via a command to the Google Assistant on the Android Wear watch, it would mean less dependence on the phone.
But for most users, wearables are still seen as too expensive. Plus, Google didn’t really mention the battery bit, which is another pain point. Most smartwatches, including the Apple Watch, still need to be recharged daily or at least every two days, a major nuisance for buyers. The other question: Does your smartwatch need to be upgraded every year, or even two years, if continues to work fine?
As someone who has reviewed a fair share of smartwatches and fitness wearables, the struggle isn’t about convincing someone whether the smartwatch is good or bad. The larger question is still this: What can the smartwatch do differently from the phone? The answer is not much. Sure some of these might appeal to fitness freaks, but that’s still a niche market. The smartwatch hasn’t become as ubiquitous as the smartphone. Despite the new features, Android Wear 2.0 might not be able to change this so quickly.