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