Android Wear is a contextually-aware phone remote on your wrist

At Google’s(s goog) annual I/O developer’s conference in San Francisco, Director of Android Engineering David Singleton gave us our first long look at Android Wear, which was first announced in earlier this spring.

The emphasis of the preview was on how developers should make apps for Google’s new wearable accessory platform. Android Wear was conceived as a compliment to an Android phone, and developers can use the same tools that they use for Android phones or tablets. “We want a seamless experience on these screens,” SVP Sundar Pichai said. “We’re making everything contextually aware and voice enabled.”

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As expected, Android Wear is a lot like Google Now on the wrist. Using the hot term “OK Google” to trigger an action, you can talk to your smartwatch and set reminders for later. Like Google Now, the watch can display QR codes, which can be used as a boarding pass. And of course, Android Wear has a heavy emphasis on context-aware notifications.

Showing off Android Wear on the LG G Watch, which has an always-on display, Singleton demonstrated a few scenarios. When waking up, a Android Wear user could swipe through cards on the watch that shows the weather, travel time to work, and a package notification; basically, everything the user needs to know to start her day. Android Wear is heavily reliant on location based alerts, which are already available on Android phones, but also make a lot of sense on the wrist.

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When the user receives a call, he can swipe up on Android Wear to send a canned SMS response, or accept or reject the call. If you don’t want any notifications, there’s a Do Not Disturb mode activated by swiping down from the top of the watch screen. The Android Wear devices should also be able to play and pause music, control an Android TV, and basically act like a convenient remote control for an Android device.

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Later, we got a look at the Moto 360, which is an Android Wear device with a circular screen. One of the early apps for it is Eat24, which allows users to order a pizza — or other takeout — from their watch.

To work off that pizza, Android Wear includes specifications for a step counter, which means Google didn’t totally ignore the fitness aspect of wearable technology. That is expected to be the defining feature of Apple’s smartwatch. Google also announced Google Fit, which is a fitness tracking service meant to compete with Apple’s Healthkit. Billed as a set of open APIs, it will allow apps and devices to connect and share data, and puts it all in one place. Google was light on the details — the SDK won’t be available to developers for a few weeks — but notably, they’ve signed up a number of partners including Nike. Now the Nike Fuel app for Android makes a bit more sense.

One of the biggest surprises surrounding Android Wear is that it won’t have its own app store. Instead, traditional Android apps can and will add wearable functions to their already existing apps on Google Play. When installing an Android app on the phone, Google Play will automatically install and update the associated watch app.

The LG G Watch and Samsung’s Android Wear device — now called Samsung Gear Live — will be available to order later today from Google Play, although Google didn’t announce a price for either device. The Moto 360 will be available “later this summer.”

Overall, Android Wear is largely what we thought it was: an system for getting Google Now onto the wrist, heavily dependent on contextual information. “People check their Android phones an average of 125 times every day,” Singleton said. Android Wear seeks to cut that number down.

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