More Watches, Androids, and Wearable Tech: A look at Android Wear and my experiences at a hackathon

I watched in fascination a few months back as Apple unveiled their new Apple Watch. Not because I desired one, not because I thought it would be successful, but because I saw the pattern of the direction it was heading. I talked at length on here about it just after, about the significance of it and the direction I saw Apple going.

But tech doesn’t develop in a vacuum. Part of the leaps and bounds we’ve seen in tech over the last few decades, and the last century, are because ideas plant seeds and grow in new ways. Collaboration and competition both tend to push forward technology in ways it could not in an isolated environment or a small group of people working in isolation. This is part of what I was trying to point out in my last blog entry.

With wearable tech, it is no different. It’s no surprise to anything that the Apple Watch isn’t the only shop on the block. Google hasn’t been idle in this area, and there are currently three watches already on the market utilizing Googles Android Wear platform, the G Watch from LG, the Gear Live from Samsung, and the Moto 360 from Motorola. The Apple Watch won’t hit the markets until early 2015 by the latest rumors. The Android watches have definitely got a jump on Apple, market wise. Technology and acceptance, we’ll see.

As with the Apple Watch, I suspect the Android Wear watches are just proof of concept, that other devices will utilize the framework and platform in the near future. Some will likely do better on the market than the initial watches. It should be remembered, of course, that Android Wear isn’t Google’s only wearable tech, and Google Glass is a major product as well. I would not be surprised that like the recent changes in Mac OS and iOS for Apple devices to work closer together, integration that will make the Apple Watch more viable and likely more versatile, that Google has plans for interoperability between Glass and Android Wear. There’s actually a potential between the two to move away from traditional phones completely and combine the two technologies to not need a phone at all, especially as Google Glass becomes less externally intrusive and obvious in later versions.

I had an interesting weekend this last one. I spent Saturday at the Google Boulder Headquarters. Google Boulder hosted the DevFest Colorado Android Wear Hackathon. I had a lot of fun. I was quite amused by the irony of setting up Android Studio on my Mac the night before and being there with a Mac, an iPad, and an iPhone, and no Android devices. I wasn’t the only person there using Apple, though, which was a bit surprising. I had not intended to compete, purely to observe, learn, get an idea what it is all about. But me and two other people ended up forming a group for fun and competing anyway. We didn’t place, but I’m glad I agreed.

At the beginning of the hackathon, there were approximately 60 attendees. I’d estimate only 20 or so stayed to the end. A large portion of the room cleared out. As I wasn’t there to win, though I would have been happy if we had, it was worth staying to the end, for the experience, and to see the ideas others came up with.

The day began with a brief overview of what Android Wear is, best practices for developing for it, and what it’s capable of. It’s a very new platform, and there were pieces of it even the Google people there hadn’t had a chance to look at yet. What was most interesting is that none of the best practices were anything that weren’t just common sense, yet they were things most people wouldn’t think of. A few examples:

  1. The watch isn’t a full phone, it shouldn’t be made to do a lot of processing, but should work with the phone when possible. Develop for the watch, don’t just port phone apps to it.
  2. Program for large gestures. There isn’t a lot of real estate, small gestures are more likely to be inaccurate or misread by the watch.
  3. No more than three controls on a page, as there isn’t much room, and you should be able to get to the control you need within three screens. Anyone who learned web design in the 90s will be familiar with the latter part of that.
  4. Notifications should be simple, easily dismissed, and shouldn’t harass the wearer.

There were a wide variety of attendees, career coders, hobbyists, designers, startup marketing people, those in other tech fields like me, educators, and other groups as well. I hope they all got out of it as much as I did.

Looking at the products people came up with in the six short hours was quite interesting. Varied and unique ideas, from health related to music related to practical utilities. While it doesn’t pin down for me the full potential of both Android and Apple watches, it gave a wider idea of types of things they are capable of and would work well on them. Enough that I might at least consider getting one of some variety at some point, and maybe build some apps just to see what I can do.

The hackathon was well worth attending, and I’d say a good use of a Saturday. I shall watch (no pun intended) with interest the development of the wearable tech market as two of the main providers push into that market, a market that has mostly been the realm of customer built and home-brewed tech until now.

~Bethany Davis
Caer Illandria Enterprises

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