This is Google’s new interface for Android Wear–a platform the company announced unceremoniously on YouTube today–that connects an Android phone to a watch to bring Google to your wrist.
But what exactly is Google on your wrist? What does it tell you? How do you control it?
Watching the videos, you’ll see that Google answered that question a long time ago through Google Now–the platform that learns your behaviors and predicts the information you’ll need before you ask for it. Now’s interface pièce de résistance is essentially an index card–which is easily resized and reshaped to any screen you can imagine.
In theory, Android Wear has a Google Now card already waiting for you whenever you need it. The watch becomes a mostly passive interface for the user, that has information available at a glance, from local weather conditions, to text messages you’ve been sent, to the taxi pulling up in front of you. The passive approach here is absolutely key, as the smartwatches we’ve seen from companies like Samsung don’t actually change communication paradigms as much as they strap a smaller smartphone to your wrist, sending a few push notifications like SMS, sure, but forcing you to tap and swipe for the good stuff.
Android Wear still enables voice and gesture. Just like in the Google Glass headset, you can search by saying “Okay, Google.” And in this second clip especially, it’s quite clear how Google sets up a series of screens to start your day–including the weather, traffic conditions, etc.–that you can explore by swiping through each discrete card at a time.
But to focus on the taps and speech is to miss the real potential in Android Wear: all of that contextual stuff provided by an omniscient Google Now. Because the better Now becomes at understanding the context of your life, the less you’ll need to hunt your way around a one-inch screen. Compare two scenarios. In scenario one, you have a Yelp app on your wrist. You tap the icon. It loads restaurants near you. You tap again to select your restaurant. You read a review. In scenario two–a hypothetical Android Wear scenario–you glance at your watch in front of any restaurant, and its review is already there waiting for you.
It’s just too bad that Google is launching Android Wear’s remarkable, familiar UI with tired smartwatch industrial design, because the smartwatch hardware the company has teased here is the same clunky mess we’ve seen from companies like LG before (even if Motorola is teasing a slightly fresher, rounded-faced version called the Moto 360), rather than, say, an ergonomically curved display that will likely define the category in the years to come.
Android Wear is a true contextual interface, backed by an ingenious predictive cloud platform. Now it just needs the right hardware to make it irresistible.