NEW YORK – Google’s Android Wear initiative will help boost sales of smart watches, but the category is still slightly ahead of its time, and prices that exceed those of subsidized smartphones will continue to hinder sales, some analysts said.
Other analysts go as far as downplaying the significance of the category, contending a smart watch’s ability to display cellphone information on a user’s wrist is a solution looking for a problem.
Some analysts define smart watches as “smart accessories” to differentiate them from fitness-oriented wristbands and watches that they call “complex accessories” because they don’t run third-party apps. Whatever the definition, some analysts view Google’s Android Wear platform as promoting the smartwatch category because it offers a simpler, easier-to-use interface than competing products, opens up app development to a wide range of app developers, and provides predictive contextualized data without user intervention.
On top of that, Android Wear watches respond to voice commands. By saying “Ok Google” and asking straightforward questions, for example, users can retrieve information about the weekend weather forecast, driving directions and the like.
Users can also respond by voice to texts, instant messages and emails as well as view information such as appointment notifications. Users also pause, play and skip music tracks on a Bluetooth-connected phone incorporating the Android 4.3 and later OS.
With an Android Wear-enabled app, users could be notified of flight information before leaving for the airport and get recommendations on a different driving route to the airport if traffic is backed up.
Google also promotes Android Wear as a safer way to get directions, get traffic updates and find phone-stored playlists while driving.
The new models are also thinner than previous smart watches.
Ronald Gruia, Frost & Sullivan emerging telecoms director, said the raison d’etre for Android Wear “is the provisioning of information that moves with the subscriber, providing him with a wide array of data inches away from his fingertips.” Android Wear “is also good at displaying contextual based information, such as location,” he said.
Android Wear also gives developers “plenty of revenue-generation” opportunities to develop apps that will expand the appeal of Android Wear devices. “The tendency is that developers will continue embracing Android Wear, and the vendor ecosystem being built by Google will flourish faster than any before.”
IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said Android Wear’s UI overcomes the drawbacks of other smart-watch UIs, which he described as “klugey” and “not the most intuitive.” More important, Android Wear devices tell users “what is going on around me and what I need next,” he said. “It tells you what is about to happen.” Displayed information is “contextualized and predictive,” he added.
Price, however, remains a limiting factor, he said. Smart-watch prices are down from initial prices of $300 and more, “but they’re still accessories, a secondary device, and they can’t cost more than primary devices.” The sweet spot is $199 or less, he said.
For his part, Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner called Android Wear’s long-term impact “promising” and said the free Android Wear OS helps lower barriers to entry by bringing down end-user costs. Still, he said, smart watches are “still in the Palm Pilot age.” The problem “is that you still have to carry around your phone,” he explained. “It’s a companion device that replicates the cellphone display in a different form factor. Whoop-de-doo. It’s a solution looking for a problem.”
“Eventually Google will get it right,” he said.