Android Wear and Google Glass are flawed concepts aimed at the future

They are unproven, unnecessary, and undeniably some of the coolest accessories you can buy today. Android Wear and Google Glass are two different products from two different teams inside of Google, and while neither of them have made it into the “must have” category yet, it is clear that these (and other devices in the space) are going to be a big part of the mobile landscape moving forward.

For well over a year now, companies have been trying to convince us that the act of reaching into our pocket and unlocking our phones is too disruptive, and that we should spend a couple hundred dollars to solve this problem. At the same time, we’re being told that tracking our bodies using a series of sensors could make us more aware of how healthy or unhealthy our habits may be. Smartwatches seem to be the intersection of these technologies, and Android Wear wants to be the king of this fledgling category of devices.

At the same time, Google’s moonshot lab who only identifies itself with “X” has been working with thousands of developers and enthusiasts to figure out how to best strap a computer to your face in the most helpful way possible. Google Glass as a concept is very cool, but at the same time it is causing the same kind of public discomfort as the camera phone did 13 years ago. It’s been an interesting step for Google, but not a full wearable strategy.

These two technologies, made by the same company but strangely separated by departmental barriers, are going to get compared to one another quite a bit over the next month. What’s interesting, what’s broken, and what’s possible with these two platforms is an interesting conversation to have, but it’s the stuff that comes next that seems like the real topic to talk about.

Android Wear UI

In the immediate future, Android Wear is going to become a lot more popular than Google Glass. Wear is being build by multiple manufacturers, from the stereotypical geek accessory made by LG to the sleek and sexy Moto 360, and all of them are available at fractions of the price Google Glass is currently available in its single Explorer Edition. These smartwatches will be independently marketed by the partner companies, will be available in every electronics store on the planet within a few months, and are just cheap enough in some cases that it’s easy for most people to justify as a toy. The full-color touch screens, ability to shift from dimmed and mostly off to bright and ready to go as you turn your wrist to look at it, and the ability to display features like Google Now make it easily superior to the other smartwatches on shelves today. More users means more developers, which in turn means Android Wear will be a well-supported platform with tons of apps in no time.

Google Glass can’t really be compared to Android Wear in this manner. Glass isn’t a consumer product, it’s not being sold in electronics stores, there is limited non-Google promotion, and so far Google has updated the hardware we call Google Glass three different times to try and keep up with the ideas the group has for the platform. The software is still being tweaked such that it can be used all day without issues since the platform was moved to Android 4.4, and no one but geeks of the hardest core and corporate entities are going to spend $1500 on a barely functional prototype of wearable technology.

Ultimately it doesn’t make sense to compare Glass and Wear directly, because there are no people who seriously considering these to be alternatives to one another. If anything, the people interested in Glass are debating whether or not they should also purchase Android Wear.

Russ 'n' Glass

All that having been said, there are a couple of things these two platforms need to learn from one another, and a few other things that are only going to be great experiences on one platform or the other. For example, my LG G Watch is never going to be able to offer me a Glass-like turn-by-turn navigation experience, but Glass is never going to let me quickly pay for my drink at Starbucks. Android Wear does a good job giving you notifications at a glance, but with apps like Twitter or Google+ the notification becomes useless as soon as you get more than one from that app. It doesn’t do you any good to know you have two mentions on Twitter with no way to actually look at the individual notifications.

On Google Glass you can swipe through your timeline and see the individual notifications. Something similar to that is very much needed on Android Wear. Meanwhile, Glass needs a way to be functional without that awkward head gesture to show you the time and allow you to access notifications. Right now you can glance up with eye tracking when you get a notification, which works well, but it seems like Glass could be so much more comfortable if this was the default for looking at the display.

If you’re interested in basic fitness tracking and you think extending your mobile experience to another device on your wrist is going to make your life easier, Android Wear is a fantastic way to go. If you’re interested in experiencing what wearable computing is going to be like after Android Wear, and you have the cash to burn, you should give Google Glass a try. Android Wear is going to be around for quite a while, it looks so far like Google has figured out the basics for that platform and it is going to grow quickly from where it is now. I’m not sure I would recommend the LG G Watch or the Samsung Gear Live to anyone that wasn’t a smartphone geek, but I think within the next year the platform will be ready for non-techy people to enjoy.

In the end, both Google Glass and Android Wear will make the future of wearable tech very interesting, but they are fundamentally different things.

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