Why Android Wear Will Rule the Smartwatch

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The announcement of Android Wear, and smartwatches from LG and Motorola, was greeted by the public as: “Oh, look — a new kind of gadget!”

But the wearable revolution in general and Google’s Android Wear initiative in particular, is barely even about gadgets.

The smartwatch revolution is about three things: devices, smartphone apps and cloud services.

You’ll note, however, that these are listed in order from least to most important. Here’s why Google’s total dominance of the third aspect of the smartwatch revolution will make them unbeatable.

1. Devices

Everyone expects Apple to come out with an elegant, woman-friendly iWatch, which may prove extremely popular and which will almost certainly revolve around health and fitness.

We’re also going to see many watches that are platform agnostic — that receive notifications from both iOS and Android phones, or that use platforms (like Samsung’s use of Tizen) other than either iOS or Android.

There will be giant, bulky, geeky watches like Samsung’s Gear, big-but-nice watches like the Moto 360, and plenty of minimalist bracelet type devices.

Apple’s iWatch may be the most elegant, durable and easiest to use watch — or maybe it won’t be. Either way, it won’t matter. Some will prefer the iWatch, others will prefer something else. The physical smartwatches available on each platform are unlikely to matter much.

2. Smartphone apps

As the Android Wear Developer Preview makes clear, to develop for a smartwatch is to develop a smartphone app that talks to the watch — not to develop a smartwatch app. That may change over time. But the first phase of the revolution will be all about smartphone apps that communicate with the Internet from the smartphone and that process data on the smartphone and that use some of the smartphone’s sensors.

All platforms will enable apps to control smartwatches, or shovel notification data at the watches. Smartphone app development is important, but a non-differentiator, for the most part.

3. Cloud services

And now we get to the real issue. Smartwatches — and the differences that will separate the platforms — is in the quality and nature of the cloud services that can be wielded in the service of the user from each smartwatch.

And this is the area Google has been preparing for massively since Larry Page took over as CEO in January, 2011. And it’s precisely in cloud services where Apple is weakest.

Nobody can touch the cloud services Google is bringing to bear on the smartwatch category.

Specifically, cloud services need to provide knowledge to the user through the smartwatch and in a way that’s usable through a smartwatch. They need access to platforms for making things happen. They need to give the user the ability to communicate through the smartwatch. All this needs to be personalized for the user, and so the collection of user data is a huge factor. And in order for all this to work in a way that results in an intelligent assistant-like user interface rather than a torrent of crap interrupting your wrist all day, it all has to be glued together in some sophisticated, algorithmically-based way.

Are you starting to see how Google will be untouchable in this space? Let’s look at the powerful services Google has in each category:

Knowledge:

  • Search
  • Knowledge Graph
  • Google Alerts
  • Maps
  • Translate

Although these are clearly top-shelf sources of knowledge, the key one here is the Knowledge Graph. Added after the Larryfication of Google, the Knowledge Graph is tailor made for the smartwatch revolution. It harvests information from multiple sources to provide a single best answer to a single question, rather than endless search results.

Platforms:

  • Android
  • Chrome
  • Chromecast
  • Wallet
  • Android@Home
  • Projected Mode

The key point of deep platform access is agency — Android Wear smartwatches will have the ability to interact with Google in car dashboards via Projected Mode, and change the channel on Chromecast. They’ll be able to pay for stuff using Google Wallet and control the Chrome browser. Android@Home will enable you to interact with Google Now and controls lights and other home automation features in your house.

Communication:

  • Google+
  • Translate
  • Contacts
  • Gmail
  • Hangouts
  • Contacts

You’ll want to be reachable, but not by everybody and anybody. Google+ circles will enable refined control of who can buzz your watch and who cannot. You’ll be able to send messages easily to the people in your Contacts database and G+ circles via Gmail, Hangouts and Google+, or initiate and even take phone calls via Hangouts (which will soon be integrated with Google Voice).

Personalization:

  • Search
  • Google Alerts
  • Maps
  • Drive and Keep
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Gmail
  • Hangouts

The more a smartwatch can leverage personalization — in other words, the more it knows about you, where and who you are, who you interact with, what you do and care about — the better it can be, interrupting you with highly relevant and desirable information and nothing else. No other company can touch Google in this area, which is able to combine data harvested about you from Search , Alerts, Maps and location, your content storage, Calendar, Contacts, Gmail, Hangouts and more.

Glue:

  • Google+
  • Google Now
  • Unified privacy policy

And “glue” — cloud services that combine all of the above — are the sticky secret sauce that Google really excels at. You see the power of Google+ as glue when you use Google Glass. It pays attention to your circles for notifications, and gives you a place to share pictures, videos and posts. It uses Google+ to know who’s birthday it is. It uses Local to know what restaurants you prefer. It uses Pages to know what companies you like. And it uses events both to know what you do and who you interact with.

The Mother of All Glue cloud services, though, is Google Now, which harvests data from Gmail, Calendar, Google+ and all kinds of other sources, including and especially the Knowledge Graph. It knows what shows you like and what your’e interested in, and combines that data into an intelligent personal assistant. It’s the main interface for Android Wear, precisely because it glues together Google cloud services.

And finally, the policy glue is Google’s unified privacy policy. This was controversial when Google did it, because it gives Google permission to use data gathered on one service and apply that information on another — precisely the quality that will make Google Wear a killer, killer platform from a user experience perspective.

Apple and other smartwatch platform vendors can match some of this. But none really come close to what Google can apply to the smartwatch platform.

In fact, the Larryfication has been all about funnelling Google’s far-flung services into a tiny point of user interaction — namely Google Now. And now Google Now becomes the central user interface for Android Wear.

The ability to simply leverage most of Google’s best cloud services from a simple user interface lashed to my wrist is vastly more compelling than a better fitness band.

It looks to me like Google is going to totally dominate the smartwatch market, because they’ve been preparing for three years for this moment. Google now on a smartwatch is the tiny window to nearly all of Google’s best knowledge sources, platforms, cloud communication services, user personal data and all-purpose glue like Google+.

Nobody else can come even close to all that.

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