Google Android Wear is a platform that connects your Android phone to your wrist. Google has published design guidelines to help developers focus their thinking in terms of Android Wear applications. We will cover that in brief, as well as examine what it takes to get started with the Android Wear development environment and what APIs are available today to help Android developers ready their apps ready for the Wear platform.
The Android Wear Platform
Android Wear is an open operating system for wearable devices. It comes with a new user interface—the result of Google working to understand how we use our phones today and how we can be more in touch with our environment. For example, data suggests that, on average, we check our phones for information roughly 150 times per day. And each time that we do that, we are likely to get lost in the phone with other applications, often spending more time on a task that is necessary or even completely forgetting what we were looking for on the phone in the first place.
The first devices boasting Android wears were the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch, both of which were released at the time of Google I/O in June. Watches were the first target for Wear, and rightly so: A watch is something most people understand and use daily. These so-called “smart” watches works are usually paired with an Android phone device, and Google has made sure that users immediately see the Wear platform at work by making it work seamlessly with latest Android phones.
In fact, to get started with Android Wear, all you need is the following:
- An Android 4.3 device
- The Android Wear Application from Google Play Marketplace.
- The ability to pair up your Android phone device with the Wear Device.
That’s it. And with these things in place, most of the notifications you get on your phone will be reflected on your Wear device. Not only will you see these notifications on the watch, but you will also be able to interact with them, dismiss them, and so on.
It’s important to keep in mind that the bridge between the phone and the Wear device is provided over Bluetooth. Wear devices currently available do not have the ability to access the Internet on their own, so the connection has to happen via a phone. While Android Wear is flexible, right now watches are getting most of the Wear-related attention. Motorola released its much-anticipated smartwatch, the Moto 360, based on Android Wear. The Moto 360 has earned praise for its beautiful design, and, at a price point of about $250, it has seen a good response from consumers. Other vendors, including ASUS, have announced plans to release their own smartwatches based on Android Wear.
There are two main ways users interact with an Android Wear device: Suggest and Demand. Suggest, as the name indicates, comprises useful and timely information that is pushed to the Wear device, in the form of a notification. The user interface refers to this as a Card, examples of which are shown below. The important thing to note here is that the Wear application is aware of context and thus pushes only information that is relevant within context. These kinds of notifications should be timely, short and easy to read, and requires minimal interaction with the user. Use cases for Suggest include instant messages, flight schedule changes, stock updates, and weather.
With the Demand usage pattern, users speak (via voice) to the wearable and it responds back with information. The devices have a microphone that lets users invoke a list of standard actions to perform by saying “OK, Google” or by tapping on the home screen. The user interface prompts users to speak which action they would like to perform. The list of standard actions includes “take a note,” “call someone” and “send a message.” Your own applications can register for the standard actions or your own customized cue text.
Now that we have examined the basic usage patterns in Android Wear, it is time to look at the user interface and some of its guiding design principles.
Most information is presented to the user in the form of a card, as shown below:
Notice the different parts of the card. With very little (or even no) modification, your current Android app notifications will come up in the format above. But since we are talking about minimal information that needs to be easy to read and contextually relevant, you should definitely spend some time thinking about when to raise the notifications and how much of text needs to be shown.
Notifications can be shown on single or multiple cards. If multiple cards are used, the user swipes left to right to move between the pages. You can even provide more than one notification by stacking them together, as shown below: There are four key things to keep in mind when designing Android Wear experiences, as per the Google Wear Design Creative Vision section. Android Wear applications should:
- Launch automatically: Users should not need to reach out to launch apps on a Wear device. A Wear device is not a phone. The Wear app should be aware of the context–time, location and activity–and should insert the relevant card accordingly.
- Be “glanceable”: Since users are wearing the devices on their wrists, it should be as easy to read the notification as it is to see the time on a traditional watch. Keeping that in mind, pay special attention to the title/text: Keep it to a minimum–easy to read at a glance and relevant.
- Effectively leverage Suggest and Demand: According to the Android Wear developer page, “Android Wear is like a great personal assistant … it only interrupts you when absolutely necessary, and it’s always on hand to provide a ready answer.” To offer this experience, developers should be thoughtful about when and how they use the Suggest and Demand models.
- Require zero to low interaction with the user: It’s important to develop applications with the typically small size of wearable devices in mind. Applications have to be easy for users to interact with, which means using voice or simple swipe/tap gestures.
Android Wear development can be looked at from two angles: Notifications and Android Wear Apps themselves (packaged via the APK file).
For users who have the official Android Wear application installed from Play Store on their phones, and who have paired the phones with their Wear devices, notifications will appear without any changes needed in an application.
With that said, sometimes modifications are necessary in order for apps to be truly useful on the Wear platform. You can have notifications that are available only on a phone device, only on a wearable or both. Additionally, as noted earlier, developers should be thinking about how to take advantage of the UI–background image, notification title, notification text, and so on.