I never understood why anyone would want a smart watch—another silly screen strapped to their wrist. Then I saw what Google had built with its Android Wear platform—the underlying software behind everything from Google smart watches to Google Glass headsets. The company has created a universal "easy button" for your life, one blue button that can empower a million different actions in a million different contexts.
How It Works
Android Wear beams notifications from your phone to the gadget on your face or wrist. These notifications come through as simple index cards—like text messages or blurbs about the weather. But at Google I/O, Google revealed an important update to these omnipresent index cards. They can now contain buttons—blue buttons—that can do anything an app can do with a tap.
What does that mean? Right now, if you get a notification about a text message, it’s just showing you the text message. If you tap it, nothing at all might happen, or you might end up inside the messaging app itself to see the whole conversation. That’s pretty much everything you can do.
In new updates to Android, this notification can have buttons on it. It means a notification about a new album on Spotify could contain a button to play a song, allowing you to interact with your music without ever loading the app.
Convenience In Context
I caught up with Brett Lider, a senior UX designer on the Android Wear team. He confirmed that notifications could contain buttons to do almost anything you can imagine—at least anything you can imagine that could be simplified to a single tap, informed by the specific context of the moment.
For example, OpenTable could offer you a button to "enter queue" when waiting outside a restaurant. Or some shopping app could let you "buy water" when you’re standing by a soda machine. Your phone is tracking your position on GPS. Your various apps can juggle your logins and bank account. And yet none of this complicated tracking matters to the end user, for whom a simple, well-timed blue button just makes stuff happen.
On Google Glass, the interaction has the potential to be even more powerful. Imagine looking at something—a shirt in a store—and having the options to "check for available sizes," "save to my Pinterest," or "search for deals" for a shirt online. All you do is tap on Glass’s frame to take an action.
Lider told me that to make these interactions clear to users—and to highlight the fact that something really is about to happen with a tap—Google has asked developers to keep action buttons blue. And on something like a tiny-screened Android Wear watch, you should only have one button—whatever an app’s most important button is—on the screen at once to avoid mis-taps. (Secondary buttons can be revealed if the user swipes right.) You wouldn't want to tap that "divorce your spouse" button or "blow up your car" button unless you really meant it.
One challenge Lider recognized was getting app developers—who normally prefer to pull users into their apps—to think about what their app does as a single, bite-sized experience. Obviously, there will always be things you want to do that can’t be boiled down to a single tap. (You can’t, for instance, rate a restaurant on Yelp 3.5 stars that way—though maybe you could "record a review.") But when you consider the fact that companies like Google are more or less tracking you all day, and all of these little screens in your life are understanding more and more about their (and your) context in the world, it’s very tempting to imagine Google, backed by countless app developers creating blue buttons, actually pulling off this vision on a wider scale.
Have a problem? Just tap that blue button waiting on your wrist.