One of the main reasons I like Android is that it does a better job than any other phone of giving me powerful ways to manage notifications. I practically live in that notification center — dismissing stuff, archiving email, tapping reply on texts. I think of the notification center as the Everything Inbox. It’s more than email, it’s like a pager for every damn thing that comes your way: phone calls, texts, annoying Groupon deals, and all the rest. It’s easy to get angry at it and even easier to think that having Android Wear is just another way for the Everything Inbox to bother you.
For a while, I was stoked for Android Wear. I go through this cycle with Google products once a year - it looks like they’ve made massive steps forward, but once you get down into their software you get the feeling that they just don’t understand how humans work.
In this case, take that literally. I’m wearing a Movado watch given to me by my girlfriend right now. It’s absolutely beautiful, and I never have to interact with it unless I want to know the time.
I think that’s the problem with Google’s vision for smartwatches. It assumes that people want to replace things that they do on their phone with things that they do on their wrist. If there is a computing device that is meant to exist on your wrist, it should serve a purpose that is not covered by my phone, tablet, or laptop.
Steve Jobs said it best when introducing the iPad:
The bar’s pretty high. In order to really create a new category of device, those device are gonna have to be far better at doing some key tasks. They’re gonna have to be far better at doing some really important things; better than the laptop, better than the smartphone. What kind of tasks?
Let’s take that same argument and add “tablet” into the mix.
The one thing that watches excel at, above all else, is the passive consumption of information. For this, and only this, watches are better than your smartphone, tablet, and laptop.
Google wants you to interact with your watch. It wants you to respond to texts and answer emails and swipe everywhere. Google’s watch is needy. A real watch exists to serve you, only showing you information when you want it, with minimal interaction between the user and the device.
What if all of our favorite apps were redesigned with this philosophy in mind? Sure, not every app would make it over - but not every app will make it over to CarPlay, either. The apps that would exist on this watch would be based on ambient, timely, quick, and most importantly passively consumed information.
Start directions on your phone? They’re already displaying on your watch. Open Dark Sky recently? Your watch is now a rolling weather report. Set a workout in the Nike+ Running app? Your watch can show you information about your current workout. Listening to music? See now playing information. Each of these apps is a magic watch face that transforms to show information you want to see.
You wouldn’t find addresses on the watch. You wouldn’t set your workout on the watch. You don’t choose what song is playing. But why would you want to? Your phone is way better at that.
If the watch were to handle notifications of any sort, they would have to be so important that they’d justify changing the nature of the watch from passive to active. The only notifications that fit this bills are those that the user explicitly initiated on another device, such as a calendar alert or a reminder.
Ultimately, a successful wearable computer will be everything that makes a watch better than our other devices for some key tasks. I believe that Apple has figured all of this out already, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of 2014.