Google I/O has come and gone, and maybe I’m impatient, but I don’t see a tidal wave of excitement over Android Wear. Like, I’m not expecting a full-fledged ecosystem to be in place by now, but after the first day of the show, I’m not sure I’ve heard a single thing about Android Wear. Wear has not, it seems to me, caught the imagination of even the devoted techie types.
And so it seems to me that it’s Apple’s game to lose. If they can produce an iWatch that really makes waves, creates buzz and attracts excited developers, then they may have that market-defining product that they’ve been missing since Android tablets started catching up with the iPad. This was a risky time for Apple: if Android Wear had been a product that had attracted massive developer enthusiasm, it would have been a major attack on the one thing that iOS still unambiguously has going on over Android: the population of talented developers who are going to treat their platform as the first class citizen.
But it’s not to be, and I think that Apple now has fairly smooth sailing until the iWatch release. The Moto 360 release in the summer may create some ripples, and if Wear were otherwise humming along, a more fashionable face might have cemented its lead, but I can’t see a ton of people getting converted merely by a slightly prettier form factor. So I think that either the iWatch will be the market-defining smartwatch… or smartwatches will be forever doomed to be a niche product.
The fundamental problem with Android Wear smartwatches, as I see it, is that most people can’t think of what to do with them besides read notifications on them. And “reading notifications slightly easier” is not such a compelling use case that it excites people to throw down a few hundred dollars, or to lock themselves into an ecosystem.
Is the smartwatch field just waiting for Apple’s special magic? Possibly! The fundamental problem with smartwatches is their extremely limited form factor, and Apple is perhaps at its strongest when finessing the tiniest, most careful details of a physical product, synthesizing software and hardware into something more than the sum of its parts. It seems like, if anyone can make a smartwatch really exciting, Apple might be those people.
But another possibility is that, no, they can’t. That nobody can. In which case, I think that things look pretty dark for wearable computing as a concept. I’ve written before that Android Wear is itself a repudiation of Google Glass. Glass does not seem like it’s gaining traction. If Wear also does not gain traction (I admit, it’s early to call it for certain), and the iWatch also fails to catch on, that pretty much suggests to me that wearables aren’t happening for the next five to ten years — if ever.