These days, life on the leading edge of consumer technology is a little like sitting through a student production of Waiting for Godot. The tech press, such as it exists online with its adolescent sense of gravitas, breathlessly anticipates the arrival of a new and highly disruptive widget, preferably from Apple. Instead, it has to busy itself with its own endless prattle about wider screens, longer battery life, or why Mark Zuckerberg is reading a book by some “rogue sociologist” with Joey Tribbiani hair.
This is what happens when an industry reaches the end of a creative cycle and Steve Jobs is still dead. It probably explains why smartwatches are a thing.
Tech writers want so badly for smartwatches to be, well, relevant. And they aren’t, not really. Not yet.
The real issue is software. If you’ve read anything about Android Wear, you’ll note that the general consensus among writers who can’t tell the difference between expert insight and the glaringly obvious is that Android Wear is “still in its infancy.”
This is a smug, judgmental little phrase and you see it everywhere. But it isn’t correct. An operating system of this nature is about possibilities, and Wear makes a lot of things possible. What’s in its infancy is how developers exploit Wear’s lean interface. It’s not about rich notifications or fitness tracking, although these have their relative merits. It’s not about calendars or teeny tiny web browsers or yet another goddamn note app. No, it’s about using your watch to complete small but vital tasks because the platform is better suited to manage them.
Shortly after I nabbed my LG G Watch R, I was shopping for groceries for the holiday season. I had an Out of Milk shopping list on my phone. I was pushing the cart with one hand, juggling my phone with the other, and swapping hands every time I needed to pluck an item from the shelf. It was absurd. And I wasn’t the only guy in the aisles with this problem. One dude was carrying an iPad.
The sad part is, it took most of the day for me to wonder if a Wear app might improve the whole man-shopping experience. Suffice it to say that I did eventually have my eureka moment and immediately lit upon Bring!, an ingenious shopping list app for Android smartwatches.
Developers Cerqui & Strebel, who seem to have only the one Play Store offering, clearly gave this handy bit of code some thought. Build a shopping list on your phone by tapping icons from a dozen product categories. The icons change from green to red at the moment they become active in your shopping list. You can share an instantly synced list with your other Bring! contacts, and open it in Android Wear as a series of cards that you tap to indicate that the item has been purchased (red back to green). Bring! is precisely what Google had in mind for Android Wear, and it has become an essential part of my not going crazy while on the prowl for foodstuffs. Pity the guy with the iPad.
Plex, the media streaming client-server software, is also Wear-ready. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. I sure as hell had no idea – that is, until I Chromecast The Book of Negroes from Plex for Android and discovered a simple TV remote overtop my Pujie Black watch face. It’s actually more intuitive than Plex’s smartphone interface – which is, shall we charitably say, retarded – and now my preferred choice to control my home media viewing.
I like the Wear Tip Calculator, very much, though I haven’t had a chance yet to use it at a restaurant. (Underground Woman and I don’t eat out all that often.) This is another inspired piece of tech that really makes the most of Wear’s circular display and micro-interactions. I have no doubt it will serve me well.
Otherwise, it’s a pretty bleak field. For now. Wear developers seem to have an issue with creativity. (Groupon for Wear? Seriously?) If you start with the premise that smartwatches are basically second screens for your phone, then I guess it all becomes another cynical exercise in fleecing the gullible.
But when they finally start to think of the smartwatch as an ecosystem with its own unique rules of engagement – then, only then, will those hordes of angsty tech writers have something worthwhile to blog about.