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Is Android Wear Losing The Plot In Bid To Play Apple's Game?

24/12/2015 8:11 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 8:39 PM IST
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Apple Watches are displayed at an Apple store on Chicago's Magnificent Mile Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

We have seen a trend in the past five years or so as the battle for supremacy intensifies between iOS and Android - while iOS devices are known as lookers and have become status symbols to flaunt, perhaps even a fashion statement, Android devices are where new features are born even if the looks aren't always so show-stopping (there are exceptions, of course).

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While this theory continues to hold, more or less, when it comes to smartphones or tablets, the story in the world of wearables has been starkly different.

I have absolutely no problem in Google trying to make a gorgeous watch with designer pricing, but the problem is that as a segment, wearables seem to be stagnating.

Apple was supposed to be the trendsetter of the wearables world, as the world keenly awaited the first Apple Watch. In the meantime, Google had gone ahead and announced Android Wear and the Motorola Moto 360 was the flagbearer of the watches series. It was round, had metallic accents and generally looked like the kind of premium watch you and I would wear. When the Apple Watch eventually came out, it was definitely not the best looking wearable in the market, and was criticised a fair deal for its square design.

Design apart, there was not much of a difference between the two sets of watches. Both showed time, had multiple watch faces as options, could monitor your activity, could control your music, showed you notifications and could run basic versions of apps independently. Yes, some details differed -- third party developers can create a watch face for Android Wear while there is no such feature for Apple, and not all Android watches come with a heart rate monitor unlike Apple etc - but ultimately, both the watches have similar capabilities.

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When Apple announced its watch, it was paraded at the Paris Fashion Week and made the cover of a couple of well-known fashion magazines. It was Apple's way of marketing the product as a lifestyle accessory, rather than just another gadget. Apple wanted you to feel beautiful when you wore the Apple Watch, even if it starts searching for the nearest charging point after a day's usage. This is expected of Apple's products.

However, surprisingly, Google, since then has been keenly tying up with several high-end lifestyle watch brands like Fossil and Tag Heuer. The most recent update from the wearables section on Android was the release of a bunch of new designer watch faces. You had the likes of Adidas and Asics in there.

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Now, I have absolutely no problem in Google trying to make a gorgeous watch with designer pricing, but the problem is that as a segment, wearables seem to be stagnating. When was the last time that a new feature had you gasping with admiration? We have not seen the expected advances the wearables should have made in helping you to monitor your vitals, nor have we seen anything done about the merely average battery life. It is all good to wear a pretty watch, but the software on most of these wearables is not really progressing the way the mobile world did. Within three years, we went from the likes of Gingerbread to Lollipop and boy did Google not bring new things? Apple has never really been great at the art of being the first, though they have always been the best improvisers in the industry. Google has always been an early mover and a trier. However, with their focus wavering, they seem to be slipping up on doing what they do best, and we're left wondering when we'll see that next big inspirational cutting-edge feature.

Google seems to be forgetting that it was the budget-conscious segment of consumers that made Android the big hit it is today.

If Google continues along this path with wearables, we may well be seeing a very interesting category already languishing. Perhaps one of the smaller players like Pebble may actually take up that big initiative we're looking for, but until then all we have are some good-looking watches with expensive branding and features that are now almost a couple of years old!

Another concern that I have about this rat race to become the most fashionable brand is that Google seems to be forgetting that it was the budget-conscious segment of consumers that made Android the big hit it is today. It was the likes of the Motorola Moto Gs or even the Lenovo K3 Notes of the world that propelled Android into being the serious iPhone competitor that it has become. It was the Nexus 7 and its popularity that made Apple bring out the iPad Mini, in ways. It is futile to even think that Apple would make a Moto E or even a Moto G of smart watches, but that is something that Google is definitely capable of doing. We really need to ask, what is it about a smart watch that makes it so darn expensive? End of the day, it has pretty much the exact same internals as that of a smartphone, in a smaller form factor with two sets of straps attached. How difficult could it be to make an Android Wear watch at, say, the Rs 5,000 mark?

India and other Southeast Asian countries are price-sensitive markets. How many people in these parts would want to buy a smart watch that costs twice or thrice as much as an Android phone? It's not surprising that the adoption rate has not been able to match the level of interest generated. People want to try out this wonderful platform, but the pricing is definitely holding them back. What is the least expensive Android Wear watch you can get today? Perhaps the ageing LG G Watch at about Rs 10,000? You could pick up a Coolpad Note 3 within that sum, plus enjoy a good night's dinner, and still pocket some change. And if an Android watch cost somewhere around Rs 2500? It would be flying off the shelves.

Google and its partners are more capable than anyone else of delivering quality products that are accessible to the mass market. Instead, they seem to be focusing on trying to beat Apple at its own a game - a game that Apple has not lost in years and is unlikely to lose anytime soon.

So, wake up Team Android Wear, do what you do best, play the most unique features game and make owning your products reasonable for the budget-conscious. Yes, we're dreaming of Nexus Android Wear here. If you do it right, it would provide an entry point for your consumers opening the gates of the wonderful world of wearables for everyone. After all, you were the ones who said, "Be together. Not the same".

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