Wound up by smartwatches


Did you feel that? Google just detonated a publicity bomb in the upper layers of the blogosphere. Soon the aftershocks will begin shaking down, trembling the wallets of the wider populous, beckoning them towards Android Wear and a walk-on part in Mountain View’s Dick Tracy reboot, but for the time being I won’t be one of them. And it breaks my high-tech heart to say so.

And it’s not because of the hardware, even though both LG and Motorola’s first efforts appear similar in size and shape to the wristwear on offer from HM Broadmoor (a sort of criminal loyalty card, I’m led to believe). I love a shiny new bauble as much as the next betesticled thirty-something with disposable income, but so far, Android Wear is leaving me cold.

And Google’s own promo video seems to admit it too:

Did you see?! Oh, the next-gen queueing! The futuristic bus rides! High-tech coffee-drinking abounds! Isn’t the future more exciting with push notifications?! They’re the same push notifications already vibrating your butt cheek to the chirrup of Snapvines and Instapokes, only this time, the guy next to you on the bus can see them before you do. 

I’m trying not to rain on the smart watch parade, I really am. But Google’s video also shows just how dumb they still are. That section where the woman runs to catch a plane, and has a boarding pass on her wrist? Watch it again. You’ll see that, even in Google’s highly-polished promoworld, it doesn’t work. 

Android Wear isn’t smart enough to determine that she’s not ‘out for a run’, but running for her flight. It’s clever enough to present the boarding pass at the right time, in the right place, but dumb enough to obscure it with a pitifully low ‘calories burned’ message at exactly the wrong time. She even looks pissed off as she swipes it away, grimacing apologetically to the airline staff. Contextual computing, this is not.

It’s annoying because Google is better than this. Travelling with Google Now by your side is incredible, so plopping it onto your wrist should be a recipe for success. But this still feels hobbled by the Google Now we already know, not empowered by the Google Now of the future.

More crucially, Android Wear doesn’t seem to offer anything more than the smartphone transposed to the wrist. Where’s the bio-feedback? The two devices buddying up to become more than the sum of their technological parts? The never-before-possible looks worryingly like the already-in-my-pocket.

Google’s great at dreaming up bold new visions, but this seems firmly rooted in the here and now, despite the depressing fact that it’s still, largely, fiction slapped with a “Screen Images Simulated” disclaimer.

Could I do better? No. But here are some things I’d like Android Wear to do instead:

Supplement my phone’s sensors
Use a watch-mounted mic to make noise cancelling more effective when I’m on a call, use humidity and pressure sensors to predict local weather variations without worry that you’re actually sensing the sweatiness of my thigh, use a light sensor to tell me when to apply sun cream. Anything, literally anything, my smartphone can’t do would be welcome.

Don’t replace my phone
You can’t. Stop trying. Direct your energies elsewhere. I will never dictate a private text message to you in public. Please stop pretending otherwise.

Charge wirelessly without leaving my wrist
Surely, the holy grail is a smartwatch that never leaves your wrist? Why can’t it charge via induction whenever in range of the smartphone in my pocket? Leaching milliamps from its bigger brother’s battery slowly, but steadily, whenever the opportunity arises is infinitely preferable to plugging in my watch every few days. I’m assuming it’ll last more than one, or it’s already dead in the water.

Augment existing activities
Slipstream into my life by adapting to existing behaviour: Swap contacts with anyone else’s smartwatch when proximity plus synchronised motion indicate we’re shaking hands, please. Anything more cumbersome or manual, and we might as well just scan each other’s QR codes, while asking some serious questions about the direction our species is heading.

Stop calling yourself smart
Only a prick does that. And nobody likes a prick.