Android Wear: will anyone buy a Google smartwatch?

A Motorola Moto 360 watch seen during the Google I/O Developers Conference

Cheering fans greeted Google's Android Wear smartwatch system, but many doubts remain

LAST UPDATED AT 11:36 ON Thu 26 Jun 2014

As the first generation of Android Wear smartwatches go on sale, analysts are asking whether the Google-powered gadgets will bring the technology into the mainstream – or prove to be a passing fad.

The LG G Watch, the Samsung Gear Live and the Motorola all feature Android Wear, a version of its mobile operating system designed specifically for smartwatches and other wearable gadgets.

What does Android Wear do?

It's based on Google's Android operating system, which is used in the majority of the world's smartphones, and has been adapted for smaller screens and more limited interfaces. Instead of icons and menus, it responds to wipes and voice commands, triggered by the phrase "OK Google".

Android Wear devices aim to "show you relevant information, and make sure you never miss an important message, while letting you stay engaged with the people that you are actually with", said David Singleton, director of engineering in Google's Android division.

Notifications can be sent from a phone to the smartwatches so that emails, text messages, reminders and alerts can be read without a user having to retrieve his or her phone. The smartwatches also display maps and directions, which Google believes will be one of the most important applications for the devices.

Like a smartphone, Android Wear watches will also run apps that will extend their functionality, so you will be able to order food or hail a taxi.

Why does Android Wear matter?

Google's operating system is intended to bring some clarity to the question of what a smartwatch is for. "The problem with smartwatches so far has been that the sector hasn't quite decided what it wants to be," Steffen Sorrell of the Juniper Research consultancy, told the BBC. "Is it a phone on your wrist or an accessory device? Once you introduce Android Wear, it will hopefully provide a more focused case for what the devices are capable of. And that's a direction that could invigorate the market."

Will anyone wear Android Wear?

CNET's Eric Mack believes that it is going to take a while before ordinary people adopt smartwatches. "While we in the tech media are all losing our minds, the vast majority of Americans… couldn't care less," Mack writes. One group of users who definitely won't be buying into the range of new smartwatches is iPhone owners, as the operating system won't work with their phones.

How do Android Wear watches look?

"Aesthetics is what will help sell Android Wear devices," says Greenbot's Florence Ion. In her hands-on review of the Motorola Moto 360 and the Samsung Gear Live, Ion concludes that both companies have managed to get the styling right: "They're svelte. They're stock. And maybe Google's influence is what will help drive the wearables market forward after all," Ion said.

In a hands-on test of the Samsung Gear Live, Gizmodo's Brent Rose praised the smartwatch's sleek feel and solid construction but criticised the device's battery, which currently only lasts "about a day".

While the clasps on the strap are a little insecure and the heart rate monitor only takes measurements when instructed to do so, overall Rose says he was impressed: "Turns out smartwatches could be great," Rose concludes. · 

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