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Android Wear Apps Are Not Very Exciting Yet

Jun 26 2014, 3:46am CDT | by

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Android Wear Apps Are Not Very Exciting Yet

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Android Wear Apps Are Not Very Exciting Yet

Android Wear, Google’s operating system that works on wearables like smartwatches, has a few nifty features — it can take voice dictations, do navigation for walkers and bicyclists, and send up location-sensitive notifications.

The standard options are what’s expected — weather, time, maps, reminders — but a select few companies were invited to develop some of the first third-party Android Wear apps consumers can try once they get their hands on the watches.

In the keynote address Wednesday morning, Google executives alluded to a few pie-in-the-sky visions: ordering a pizza to you in 20 seconds, picking up a Lyft with just a few taps of the watch face.

But the third-party apps (or at least the demos shown to people on the conference floor) are pretty basic for now. They take one or two voice commands and don’t have much browsing capability (not like you’d necessarily want to spend five minutes swiping through a mini-smartphone strapped to your wrist). Most of the more sensitive controls come from the phone apps, and the watches are just miniature projections of the same thing.

As long as the value proposition of a smartwatch is saving you the trouble of taking your phone out of your pocket to check it — something Android users do 125 times a day, Google said today — then consumers might wait before running out to buy one right away, especially while they’re so big (the LG G Watch in particular would look huge on a thin wrist, though the unreleased, round-face Motorola option may be more aesthetically pleasing, especially for women).

A look a few of the third-party apps below:

Allthecooks, a cooking and recipe app, had a pretty good proposal for a smartwatch’s value: How do you scan the recipe that’s on your phone when your hands are covered in dough/sauce/anything else?

The watch app shows tiny cards that can be swiped through — ingredients list, then each step in a new frame. Of course, it still needs to be swiped through to see the next card, which means you either have to use a dirty finger, a clean knuckle, or something more creative (one of the demonstrators swiped with the tip of his nose). Allthecooks’ Glass app is completely voice-controlled (“show me ingredients,” “next step,” etc.) but the watch app is not there yet.

Eat24 was the app that engineering director David Singleton used on stage to order a pizza in less than 20 seconds — but again, its options are narrow and based on actions from a mobile or desktop user. The app can only be used to order things you’ve ordered in the past, not anything new — so no browsing capability. It prompts users if they want to order something similar to a past order — like suggesting a user order clam chowder every Friday or some sushi when the user gets home in the evening. If you want something new to eat, you’ll have to revert to mobile or desktop.

Pinterest got a shoutout in the keynote with its “pinned places” app, but it’s also limited. Part of Pinterest’ appeal is that it collect interests in many categories from users — entertainment, fashion, sports, food, etc. But the Wear app, for now, only has integration with pinned locations, like restaurants. Currently, users get a notification when they are near a place they or a friend have pinned. They can swipe from that notification to a map and to turn-by-turn navigation if they’re interested. Pinterest software engineer Sunny Rochiramani said they could see recipe, shopping or entertainment integration in the future, but for now it’s focusing on restaurants.

Runtastic’s Wear app will appeal to those who keep their phone somewhere secure while they’re exercising but want to be able to track their activity. The watch can take two commands: “Ok, start a run” and “Ok, stop a run.” That starts (and stops) the app’s tracker, which follows runners’ path, time, elevation, etc. The runner can choose to have three metrics displayed on the watch but, again, has to select those three options on the phone app. Still, handy for when you don’t want to stop jogging.

PlayerFM, a podcast app, is the only Wear app I saw Wednesday with broader browsing capabilities. Users have basic controls on the watch, like next, previous and pause. But they also can browse their podcast library directly through the watch. It’s unclear whether that’s much of an advantage — it’s not an action that needs to be done quickly or often, and it did feel a little like using a tiny phone. But until it’s clear that users do or do not want to walk around swiping on their watch faces, maybe it’s best to give them the option.

Follow Ellen Huet on Twitter at @ellenhuet. Read more of Forbes’s Google I/O coverage here and here.


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