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Android VS Android Wear: Which OS Should Power New Smart Wearable Technology?

Rose Li

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Google has recently announced a new operating system designed specifically for various lines of smart wearable technology: the aptly-named Android Wear. Android Wear was designed primarily with smart watches in mind, and Google claims that this new operating system will help make these wearable devices so much easier to use. The problem, however, is that existing versions of Android have already been customized to work with smart watches.

So the big question now, is to choose between Google’s Android Wear or customized versions of Android that are already out on the market right now.

Common Ground

Many of the smart wearable technology out on the market use heavily-customized versions of Android. This means that many of the wearable devices out there right now each use customized versions of Android to serve their purposes, from big-hitters such as Samsung to smaller startups like Pebble. Even white-label wholesalers such as Chinavasion use customized versions of Android.

Core features that bind virtually all wearable gadgets running on Android – Wear included – are the ability to a) quickly provide information at a glance using only a few swipes, b) remotely manipulate the apps running on a tethered Android device and c) the ability to notify the wearer about events such as calls, SMS messages, calendar events or emails, social media updates.

Android Wear is basically one such customized version of Android – one that implements Google’s vision of how smart watches should be used. This is where Wear attempts to make itself stand out from the existing versions of Android.

Key Differences

There are two key differences between Android Wear and existing custom Android operating systems. The first is the way users interact with the devices running the operating systems, and the other is providing a ‘context stream’ of data.

Existing smart wearable technology rely heavily on swipes and taps, while Android Wear keeps the swiping but eschews taps for voice commands. Google Wear’s reliance on voice commands make it very similar to Google Glass – Google’s upcoming smart glasses. These voice commands are theoretically supposed to eliminate the need to bring out your phone to change configurations or to awkwardly tap out.

The other key difference is Google’s so-called context stream, where Google Wear analyzes your activities, searches, preferences and geographical location to make ‘smart suggestions’ about notable events that would probably interest you. It sounds creepily Orwellian, but Google has already been doing this with Google Ads and people tolerated those - so tweaking it for smart wearable technology isn’t that far-fetched. This does mean, of course, that you’ll need to be constantly hooked up to wireless Internet access to make the whole setup work.

The Bottom Line

The problem with all of this right now is that Android Wear has not yet been introduced into the mainstream just yet. Google has put on an impressive show in its I/O conference, exciting both developers and consumers alike, but we will just have to wait and see if Wear can really change the way we use wearable gadgets like smart watches or if it is just another customized Android operating system to be lost in a sea of competitors.

The more interesting point, however, is whether existing versions of Android can be updated to apply what Wear promises. Android was heavily customized from the ground up by various manufacturers to power the current generation of smart wearable technology. What’s to stop them from doing so again – especially with the lesson learned from earlier attempts?

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