• Is Android Wear dead in the UK?

    By Josh , July 24, 2017 - Leave a comment

    Android Wear is a fine system. So why is the smartwatch range so poor in the UK?

    moto 360 original
    The original Moto 360 from 2014 was generally well received

    In March 2014, Google announced Android Wear; an extension to the Android system aimed at wearable devices.

    Just like standard Android, the Wear platform would be open to OEMs. Theoretically at least, Android devices and Wear products would all play nicely with each other (software updates pending of course).

    At the time it seemed like an excellent proposition. The tech world was going mad over the possibility of an Apple Watch, something Apple didn’t confirm existed until September of that year.

    Initially it seemed like Google had the drop on Apple. Here was an open platform that could bridge manufacturers, tapping into a supposedly massive market. An HTC watch could work perfectly with a Samsung phone for instance. Sadly it didn’t work out quite like that.

    The first generation of Android Wear was fairly well received by critics, if not by the wider buying public. The Moto 360 seemed to sell well. So did follow up watches from LG and other manufacturers. Yet almost as soon as the hype blew up over wearables, it quickly died back down.

    Do manufacturers not want to commit?

    Android Wear does work well. In fact, following this year’s 2.0 update, a whole host of features have been added. Watches with the newest version can have standalone apps, Google Assistant, Android Pay, direct access to the Play Store and a revamped front-end UI that channels Google’s Material Design ethos. A full preview is available in the following YouTube video:

    Sure Swype typing on a watch is cool. But would you actually ever want to do it?

    So why when I go to the UK Play Store is there no option to buy an Android Wear watch? Why is the range from retailers so poor?

    Honestly, go to the Play Store. If you’re browsing from outside the UK, switch to UK. Try and find an Android Wear smartwatch for sale. That seems a little odd, especially as there are options on the US site. Brands such as Moto, LG, Asus and Huawei have made their wearables available in the UK before.

    The issue continues when you look at big box retailers. Take a gander at Currys, John Lewis, Carphone Warehouse, Argos etc. Their smartwatch ranges, if they have one, are tiny. You might find a few older models with cut prices with maybe one or two of the new models.

    I’ll also add that Clove doesn’t stock any of the new models. Why? Because it’s almost impossible to get them through legitimate UK distribution. We could theoretically stock the Asus Zenwatch 3. However the distribution is convoluted and set up only to only allow large orders. As such, only Currys and Amazon officially have it in the UK.

    Android Wear 2.0 Notification UI
    A UI revamp for Android Wear 2.0 is a welcome and necessary update – but is it too little too late?

    Even brands that have had success with Android Wear don’t seem to be pushing much. There’s no mention of the Moto 360 range anywhere on the Motorola’s UK website.

    Is this potentially part of a Catch 22 situation? I can understand initial sales being under expectations and manufacturers tempering offerings to the market based on that. But if they reduce the range to a point that its not attractive – or withdraw completely – how can they expect demand to increase?

    I have noticed another trend though. All of these big stores and online outlets have one thing in common. They all offer a wide range of fitness wearables.

    Maybe we just don’t want smartwatches.

    Fitness Bands
    Image courtesy of TechRadar

    Fitbit. Garmin. Jawbone. Moov. TomTom!! All of these and more manufacture fitness bands. There’s a wide range of specifications and prices; it’s the kind of market, filled with several brands and choices, that the smartwatch sector was supposed to be enjoying by now.

    It seems that in the War of the Wearables, at least in the UK, fitness bands are VHS and smartwatches are Betamax.

    The supposedly higher-specification, tech enthusiast’s product of choice has been soundly beaten by similar, cheaper products aimed at a mass market.

    And once the fitness bands took hold, they started to incorporate watch features. Just look at the Fitbit Blaze. It’s a smartwatch made by a fitness band company. It’s still nowhere near as good as a proper Android Wear smartwatch though.

    Even the indomitable Apple floundered with the Apple Watch. The product line remains one of the few times Apple didn’t post sales forecasts and figures. When it was updated, Apple doubled down on the fitness aspects and downplayed ‘traditional’ smartwatch features. I can only vividly recall seeing an Apple Watch once “in the wild”. It was on a friend who got one as part of a package from his health insurance. Their offering if he had an Android phone? A Fitbit. Telling.

    How many pieces of tech can you have on you at once?

    “Oh smartwatches can be fitness trackers too? Cool! But I have 3 years of Fitbit data that won’t transfer… Bummer. I suppose I’ll just get the slightly beefier Fitbit which has a few watch features. Sorted.”

    OK so the above thought process is a bit trite, but I think it illustrates a reality. Who are smartwatches for?

    The smartwatch promised to relocate important phone notifications and communication. Do we need that though? Is it actually benefiting anyone? By the time I’ve piddled about on a tiny wrist-mounted interface or attempted to respond with semi-garbled voice-recognition, I could have brought my phone out – already unlocked thanks to a fingerprint – tapped the notification and found myself in a full-screen app with total control and integration with other features.

    What about people that wear a watch as a piece of fashion/art. Many of them wouldn’t want to replace their quality timepiece with a rather less attractive (both aesthetically and socially) piece of technology. But a fitness band? Sure. It’s a more focused item with a fixed purpose.

    For many of us, our daily lives have become centred around the smartphone as a communication hub. For those who have an eye on keeping fit, a band is a useful bit of additional technology that is fairly affordable and focuses on doing one thing well. From what I see, the smartwatch just doesn’t actually help that much.

    So here lies the rub. Smartwatches are cool and all. They do some pretty awesome things. But sadly, after the last few years, I think they might just be completely unnecessary. I’m yet to be provided with a workflow including a smartwatch that makes current communications any more streamlined for the average person than just getting their phone out.

    AR is the future anyway.

    Could the Cicret concept be the way forward, or is this overthinking?

    This piece started with me wondering why smartwatch sales had dropped like a stone. Then I looked around and found almost nowhere selling them.

    Applying some thought I think I’ve figured it out. Gadget fans liked the idea of a smartwatch. But the execution and reality has, for lack of a better word, sucked.

    Possibly this is an example of manufacturers and analysts pushing too hard for something when perhaps the technology and market wasn’t really ready for it.

    Wearable computer: Awesome! Smartphone on your wrist: Incredible! But that’s not the case. Neither Android Wear, Apple Watch, or the glorified fitness bands with watch faces are anything like the promises made by manufacturers.

    So where do we go from here? If the smartwatch isn’t a viable product in its current guise, what’s next? Personally I think the world of AR/VR is the most exciting. Early reports for Microsoft Hololens set the mind on fire with possibility. Google have also resurrected Glass for industry & corporate customers. There are also concepts such as Cicret (although this hums of vaporware that may never reach market).

    As this type of technology is refined, it has potential for both industry and consumer applications. If it slowly takes hold, the concept of a ‘smartwatch’ may seem like a quaint, almost retro idea in quite a short time.

    Wearables are far from dead but perhaps we need to rethink what we want them to do.

    With the rise of voice-controlled assistants, maybe more affordable bridges could be useful. Something like a simple passive bracelet or necklace with a microphone. Bluetooth Low Energy would keep a constant connection and the main hardware can be in a low energy standby state (to preserve battery) until a button is pressed or a gyro recognises a gesture. After you speak, the command goes to your phone, or Home/Alexa Hub, or whatever is the closest paired main computer to complete the action. A bit like Star Trek’s Starfleet officers tapping their insignia badge to open a channel of communication with the ship Computer.

    So what are your thoughts? Did you have or do you still use a smartwatch? Did anything in particular put you off or make you stop using one? Or maybe you’re in the other camp – is your smartwatch ingrained into your daily workflow now? If so, what do you find it most useful for? Let me know in the comments below.

    Josh

    Josh joined Clove part time a few years ago whilst studying Computing at Bournemouth University. Since finishing his studies he has remained at Clove in a full time position, involved in sales, returns and social media.

    Involved with both consumer electronics and software since the mid 2000s, keeping up to date with industry developments is as much a hobby as it is a job.

    Easy going but never afraid to share an opinion, Josh can often be found in his spare time listening to some heavy rock or at a local gig as well as playing with the latest gadgets and video games.

    Comments

  • I have an early Sony Smartwatch 3. I use it mainly to discreetly pick up messages and control music playback when my phone is in my bag or it’s simply not acceptable to pick up a phone: in a meeting, eating out, perhaps. Never use it for workouts, but sometimes notice I’ve hit some steps target or another. It’s a remote for my phone. Extremely useful for that. Will miss it when it’s gone. Won’t go back to a normal watch. Too old for a fitness band.

  • I like my LG Urbane, and I’ve considered upgrading to the Huawatch 1st gen.
    I find it convenient to have media controls on my write so I don’t need to access my phone.
    I’ve enjoyed downloading and writing watch faces using WatchMaker.
    I like that my watch keeps perfect time.
    My phone trusts my watch, so if my watch is in range then I don’t need to unlock my phone.
    I do make reasonable use of notifications on my wrist, particularly to see who’s calling when I am in a meeting, it’s more discreet, and I can cancel the silent call easily
    Charging is convenient and easy and fairly quick

    I don’t like having to charge every day – I could charge every 26 hours but that’s not a sensible cycle

    Long and the short: if my Wear broke, I’d buy another.

    • Thanks for the response Paul.

      You’ve pretty much listed most of the reasons Wear is advertised for, aside from fitness stuff. I think I can see the appeal but I also think there hasn’t been an effective way of communicating this to the average consumer i.e. “not us”.

      Smartphones have become ubiquitous because they were a natural progression of the basic mobile phone – something pretty much everyone already had. It was easy to slowly upgrade people through network contracts too. But I wonder how many people really use all of the features on their phone, in the same way that people who may have carried PDAs years ago did?

      I’m generalising, but I think the average person doesn’t actually *use* their smartphone as a tool all that much, with the main uses being messaging, browsing & social media. All things best done with a bigger screen.

      So perhaps the potential smartwatch market was exaggerated, with large numbers of the target market actually not caring all that much about a bit of remote notification management or media controls. I don’t think Wear will completely go away, there’s been too much investment in it now, but the lack of options and marketing from OEMs definitely makes me think the category isn’t remotely close to the adoption rate expected a couple of years ago.

    • corrections/clarifications

      my watch would last about 36 hours on a single charge, so whilst it lasts a full day, there’s no chance of lasting two days, hence charge it every day.

      I also use my watch to leave a voice memo to myself if I am driving… “ok google, remind me to do X when I get home”.

      If I am using G Maps to navigate when walking, my watch will let me know which way to turn

      Useful notifications are someone ringing, receipt of an SMS, a calendar event, a new podcast episode (I use Podcast Addict).

      as Josh says, people seem quite unaware of all this sort of thing. However, I notice many people carry their phones around in their hand, and don’t wear a watch anyway. I’m, ahem, of more mature years, and always worn a watch (since a teenager).

  • The problem with smartwatches is they need charging. A solar panel or internal motion charging dynamo would make them more attractive and simple to maintain.

  • I think the problem with smartwatch adoption is that manufacturers just don’t “get” what people want to wear on their wrist. Nobody in their right mind wants a *second* (bulky, underperforming, extremely expensive) smartphone – people need a smart *extension* of their primary device, something that fitness tracker manufacturers do seem to understand (even if out of necessity), and something that Pebble was getting, but failed to implement due to “too little, too late” issues, IMO.

    If some brave company would produce an Android Wear smartwatch that is: a) sized like a typical wristwatch; b) has 5+ days of battery life; c) has an always-on color display readable in sunlight; d) is shock- and swimproof and e) priced below ~$200 for a basic version – it will be a runaway success. Until that time, smartwatch sales with remain lackluster.

  • I have a Pebble Time Steel. Unlike other smartwatches, it’s always-on display means the battery lasts 10 days so it feels like a ‘normal’ watch. I use it for time & date, weather, step counting, music control, reading texts and other notifications and responding to texts via voice. It’s such a pity Pebble went bust, but I guess that’s the point of your article – there’s not enough demand. There are lots of valid use cases for these watches so I find it hard to understand why they have fallen out of favour. Like others have said, I wouldn’t want to return to a normal watch.

    • As I’d mentioned in my comment – Pebble did too little, too late. First-generation Pebbles were (almost) a complete fail – ugly, terrible screen, terrible responsiveness, constant BT and app issues. Second-generation only became really useful with release 4.x of PebbleOS, almost a year (IIRC) after they were released (and original Pebbles never got that update, of course). People who persevered through this loved their Pebbles to bits –
      I had’t met a single unsatisfied Pebble owner (several of my friends still use them daily). So yeah, Pebble did “get” it – I think their idea was spot-on from day one – they just failed to execute on it 🙁

  • I bought the first version of the Moto 360 from Clove when it was released and I still use it everyday. I like to be able to change watch faces using watchmaker from Facerepo and check an incoming text or email simply and easily. I charge it every morning for about an hour and it always has 50% remaining each morning. I often get comments like “I like your watch, what is it”? I wanted to buy the updated V2 model but couldn’t believe that it seemed to be no longer available. I would buy another tomorrow and don’t understand why they have lost their appeal. Disappointed.

  • Having had quite a few Android wear devices they all failed for me in the primary requirement I had, music control and volume adjustment.

    I kept going back to my Pebble. My Gear S3 has almost nailed it but it is just too bulky.

    So in the end I am using an Apple Watch with an iPhone, my Galaxy S8 is getting sold, it failed me when I needed it the most and required a factory reset from the boot loader, the S3 is being kept for now..

    The new Ionic watch from FitBit looks rather uncomfortable to wear (and slightly aesthetically challenged) and I for one have no wishes to follow another platform having been burned by Pebble and their sell out to FitBit.

    • Ionic looks ugly as hell, but other than that it seems to be like a happy marriage between Pebble smartwatch and FitBit tracker. $300 pricepoint will turn away a lot of people, though :-(.

      • Yeah it is not cheap :/ I guess we will need to wait for the reviews to come in.

        If it turns out to be awesome I may need to go full politician and do a 180 on my previous statement 😀

  • Leave a Reply

    Filed under: Latest Posts

    %d bloggers like this: