Mobile recap: iOS Android Wear; Pebble Time Steel; Huawei Nexus

In the final run up before the Apple Watch launches, an interesting rumor made the rounds: Google is allegedly working on bringing Android Wear watch support to iPhones. On the surface that may sound odd: Why would Google even consider such a thing?

Google Play Music Android Wear main

The reality is: [company]Google[/company] has long supported [company]Apple[/company]’s mobile OS with nearly all of its services and there are plenty of examples of that. There are iOS apps for Google Play Music and Movies, for example, as well as Gmail, Google Voice, Google Search (which adds Google Now contextual notifications to iOS), Drive, Maps and more. About the only main Google app that still remains Android only I can think of is Google Keep.

Granted, Android Wear is a different case since this is Google’s smartwatch platform. There’s precedent here, however: Google eventually added Google Glass support for iPhone users. I think, as a result, it would make sense for Google to bring an Android Wear to iOS. It would open up Android Wear watch sales to a completely new segment of potential users and allow Google to keep gathering valuable information from iPhone owners.

pebble time steel

Such cross-platform support is something that the Pebble smartwatch enjoys. And if that wasn’t enough, the new Pebble Time edition now has a stainless steel option. Pebble introduced the Pebble Time Steel this week, allowing those who already backed the plastic model a chance to upgrade. The metal version will cost $299 when it arrives in June but early backers can reserve one for $249.

Months later is the typical time of year when Google introduces a new Nexus handset and there’s been buzz this week that Huawei will get the nod to design and produce it. If that happens, it will be the first time a China-based company was tapped for the Nexus phone since the line was introduced in 2010. Previous Nexus-makers include HTC, Samsung, LG and Motorola.

huawei watch official

Huawei has even dropped hints about any future phones it might sell in the U.S., saying they will come with “stock Android,” which is a key feature of Nexus phones. Of course, Google wants its own flagships to be high-quality, good-looking devices and Huawei has proven itself in that area if the company’s new Huawei Watch is any indication.

Hyundai car start here for Android Wear, coming for Apple Watch

Yes, the Apple Watch could replace your car keys, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview with the Telegraph last week. It won’t be the only watch to do so, though. On Wednesday, Hyundai debuted its watch app that lets Android Wear owners do the same. The car maker had previously shown an early version of the app in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, notes The Verge.

Blue Link Smartwatch

Obviously, you’ll need a Hyundai vehicle for the app, and that vehicle will have to support Hyundai’s Blue Link cloud platform. If you meet those requirements, the app will let you remotely start or stop your vehicle, lock and unlock the doors, flash the lights or honk the horn — the latter two options being helpful to find your car or truck in a parking lot.

The Hyundai Blue Link smartwatch app for Android Wear works through a Bluetooth-connected phone to send car commands through the cloud. The watch app supports both touchscreen and voice commands: Saying “Start my car,” for example, will do just that.

Along with its new Google Android Wear app, Hyundai’s Blue Link software will be available for the Apple Watch shortly after Apple releases its smart timepiece, which it’s expected to do this coming Monday.

Report: Google preparing iOS app for Android Wear smartwatches

Right now, you need an Android phone to use an Android Wear smartwatch. But according to a report from French technology website 01net, Android Wear might be going cross-platform with an iOS app, possibly launching at Google’s annual developer conference in May.

When Apple Watch launches in the next month, it will require an iPhone to work. Android compatibility is extremely unlikely. If Google were to allow Android Wear smartwatches to work with iOS devices, that would be a significant difference between the platforms, and some users would see it as a reason to pick an Android Wear device over an Apple Watch. At the very least, it would expand the market of possible Android Wear users.

Last year, Android Wear senior product manager Jeff Chang hinted that Google was contemplating cross-platform compatibility for Android Wear but had run into technical obstacles. “It’s not always completely up to us right? There are technical constraints, API constraints so we are trying really hard, ” Chang told the Huffington Post.

Currently, we have to treat this report as a rumor. Although 01net is a reputable website, it doesn’t cite a source — only “according to our information” (selon nos informations) — and warns that it hasn’t been confirmed.

Still, it’s fun to imagine a time in the near future when your Moto 360 could talk to your iPhone 6. Recently, a developer who goes by MohammadAG hacked his Android Wear smartwatch to talk directly to an iPhone using Apple’s notification services. Although it was more of a concept than a working Android Wear solution for iOS, it showed that it’s possible. Given that Google has native iOS support for many of its products, it wouldn’t surprise me if Google is working to bring Android Wear beyond Android. Let’s see it happen, Google.

Amid new watches, Android Wear crosses 1M downloads

The number of Android Wear downloads has crossed the into the one to five million range on Google Play, suggesting that around one million people are wearing smartwatches powered by Google software.

android wear downloads march 2015

Last month, estimates of 720,000 Android Wear smartwatches shipping in 2014 were reported, causing some to consider Google’s watch ambitions to be a flop. At the time, Android Wear downloads were in the 500,000 to 1,000,000 range.

I noted then there were several reasons not to be surprised or disappointed by the Android Wear numbers; only a few watches were even available for much of the measured time period and that the platform was still young yet. Simply put: It’s going to take time for [company]Google[/company] to mature the software and for hardware makers to make more attractive watches.

Watch-Urbane

This week, two companies are doing just that. LG is showing off its Watch Urbane while Huawei has debuted its fashionable Huawei Watch made with stainless steel case and sapphire crystal. These join the handful of previously available watches, some of which have had less than inspiring designs while others such as the Moto 360 have stood out with solid looks. Motorola is adding customized options for its watch later this month.

huawei watch official

Given that there are now a million Android Wear downloads, it’s reasonable to assume one of three things with earlier estimates. One, the 720,000 shipments in 2014 was accurate and there was nearly a 50 percent jump in Android Wear sales over the past two months. Two, the shipment estimate was low to begin with. Or three, the most likely scenario to me, is a combination of both: Estimates were low and a meaningful number people did buy an Android Wear watch in either January or February.

Unfortunately, we’ll likely never know for sure. While Google can easily tell how many Android phones with its services are bought through phone activations, you don’t activate an Android Wear watch; it’s an extension of an Android phone. The best proxy we have to determine Android Wear sales is the number of downloads for its companion app, which are now one million or more.

The next cross-over point for the Android Wear app happens once it’s downloaded more than 5 million times. If the software and hardware keep improving, I think there’s a chance we see that this year; perhaps in the late second or third quarter, depending on the platform’s maturity, device design and pricing. And as they say, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” so I anticipate next week’s Apple Watch exepcted launch will raise overall consumer awareness of smartwatches, which could help Android Wear sales.

Huawei debuts a 7-inch phone and its first Android Wear watch

Back in 2012, I suggested that for some, a tablet may replace a smartphone within the next few years. Fast forward to present day and Huawei is thinking the same: The company introduced a 7-inch tablet with cellular voice capabilities alongside its Android Wear smartwatch that was leaked before the Mobile World Congress event, which kicks off today.

mediapad x2

Huawei already sells a large phone direct to consumers in the U.S.: You can buy the Ascend Mate2 with its 6.1-inch display for $299.99 off contract. The new MediaPad X2 brings the screen size to a full 7-inches with 1920 x 1200 resolution for a pixel density of 323 pixels per inch. Huawei says it’s keeping the overall size of the X2 down with an 80 percent screen to body ratio and 7.28 millimeter thickness. The 5,000mAh battery should easily last a day, if not two, between charges.

mediapad x2 side

Inside is the company’s own 64-bit chipset, an eight-core 2.0GHz Kirin 930 paired with Mali T628 GPU and Cat6 LTE radio capable of 300Mbps download speeds. A 13-Megapixel camera adorns the rear, while the front of the X2 has a wide-angle 22mm lens and 5MP sensor.

The device runs Google Android 5.0 software with Huawei’s own software called EMUI. The base model includes 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM and Huawei will offer a second edition with double the storage and 3GB of memory. Huawei says pricing and availability will vary by region with more details to follow.

Also coming soon at an undisclosed price is the metal Huawei Watch running Google’s Android Wear software. It looks like other circular watches that have recently hit the market but Huawei is boasting a higher pixel density: The round 1.4-inch AMOLED screen has a 400 x 400 resolution. The touchscreen is covered with a sapphire crystal and overall, the device looks like a classic metal watch.

huawei watch official

Like most Android Wear devices, the Huawei Watch has a bevy of sensors inside: 6-axis gyroscope, barometer, and optical heart-rate monitor. Outside, the case is made from 316L corrosive-resistant, cold-forged stainless steel.

While the watch looks nice, there are already several similar options available to consumers. I’m more interested to see if consumers adopt the MediaPad X2 as a replacement for both a phone and a tablet.

The X2 should work fine for the latter use; I’ve happily carried and used a 7-inch slate in the past, although I wouldn’t use it for a full-time productivity device. You probably can’t put the X2 in your pocket like you can with most phones though, and that could be a challenge for potential buyers. Still, color me intrigued.
MWC-2015-ticker

Huawei leaks its own Android Wear watch early in Barcelona

Look at the list of Android Wear partners and you won’t see Huawei there. Maybe the list needs an update. And while we’re at it, the folks who manage signage at Barcelona’s airport might want to check their schedule: They have advertisements appearing that show the new Huawei Watch.

Huawei hasn’t officially announced the product yet, so the ads, spotted by Android Central on their way to the Mobile World Congress event, were made public a bit early.

huawei-watch-airport-sign

The ad shows an elegant looking, round watch with relatively small bezels compared to current smartwatches. The ad specifically notes that the Huawei Watch is powered by Android Wear, so it uses [company]Google[/company]’s platform and works with Android phones.

Based on the mini billboard, expect the Huawei Watch to launch in three styles: Gold with brown band, black with a matching sport band and a shiny silver or metal case with fancy mesh band. Without much of a retail presence in the U.S., we may not see the Huawei Watch sold here although Huawei does sell phones directly through an online website.

You’ll be able to customize a Moto 360 watch next month

Motorola plans to expand its Moto Maker customization order process, allowing people to design their own Moto 360 smartwatch. The new program will start next month, says Wired, which reported the news on Thursday.

moto maker moto 360

The customizing process will be similar to that for the Moto X, Motorola’s flagship phone. For the handset you can choose colors for the front and back and different access colors for the buttons, order custom engraving and choose a message to be shown at boot-up. Moto Maker for the watch is the same but with fewer options.

Customers can choose from three watch casings, for example, in either silver, black or champagne. Next is a choice of various leather or metal bands. Finally, buyers can customize a boot-up message on their 360. Just like with the current Moto Maker process, a high-resolution render will display the watch based on the selections.

I’ve always felt that phones were fairly personal so I appreciate the Moto Maker option the company introduced with its first Moto X in 2013. Watches are even more personal, though, so the custom order choices make even more sense with this product. And they help Motorola further differentiate its watches in a growing sea of [company]Google[/company] Android Wear competitors.

Broadcom has an Android Wear platform with 3G, NFC and more

Broadcom wants to make it easier for hardware makers to build an Android Wear smartwatch, complete with features that Google’s software doesn’t even support yet, notes PhoneScoop. The chip company introduced its watch platform that pairs a power efficient quad-core processor with mobile broadband radio, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC, wireless charging and optional camera support.

Indeed, the hardware is far ahead of the software in a few ways, much like the Sony Smartwatch 3 I bought last year is.

Smartwatch 3 screen on

My Android Wear watch, for example, includes both GPS and Wi-Fi radios but the software only works with the former; Wi-Fi support isn’t yet included with Android Wear. I anticipate it will be at or before this May’s [company]Google[/company] I/O event. That would let you untether the watch from a phone; data could be sent over a local Wi-Fi network.

Broadcom is clearly thinking beyond Wi-Fi in Android Wear, however.

Adding a 2G/3G radio would make such a device work without a phone, even outside the range of a Wi-Fi network. It would also challenge battery life, which is already a downer for many who are considering an Android Wear smartwatch. I can eke out two days of run time on my Smartwatch 3, for example, but often charge it nightly, just as most Android Wear owners do. The addition of wireless charging support adds convenience but does nothing to improve battery life, of course.

The new Broadcom platform for Android Wear is available to hardware makers to sample, and the company will be showing off its platform focused on smartwatches at next week’s Mobile World Congress.

Watch this: iPhone notifications on Android Wear

Despite the fact that both Google’s and Apple’s smartwatches are designed only to work with their own respective mobile platforms, you can get notifications from an iPhone on an Android Wear watch. Well, maybe you can’t, but Mohammad Abu-Garbeyyeh can.

MohammadAG, as he’s known in developer circles, shared this brief video over the weekend, showing a notification from his [company]Apple[/company] iPhone appearing on his [company]Google[/company] Android Wear watch.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/DIIYmVSc9Yw]

Android Authority notes that the solution here uses the Apple Notification Center Service (ANSC), which is what the Pebble smartwatch has used for the same purpose. Apple introduced ANSC with iOS 7 so that Bluetooth devices could receive notifications from iOS devices. To get ANSC working with an Android Wear watch, MohammadAG created a small Android app, which he may open source and make freely available.

For now, this is more concept than usable solution if you like Apple’s phones and watches that run Google’s software. And notifications are just one small part of what smartwatches can and should offer. Still, MohammadAG’s effort is an interesting proof of concept.

Perhaps Google will pick up where he left off and bring native iOS support to Android Wear? Given how well Google supports iOS with nearly all of its other apps and services, I wouldn’t be shocked if Google is working on it.

Have we figured out what we want in a smartwatch yet?

Next month will be the one-year anniversary of Google’s smartwatch platform introduction. And the month after that will see the Apple Watch ship to its first buyers. While smartwatches have been around for far longer, it’s only been the last year or two where they’ve become viable enough for mainstream consumers to even consider purchasing.

I’m not sure we’re any closer to knowing what we want from these wearable devices though, or rather if we’re at a point where smartwatches are compelling enough to generate hundreds of millions of sales. That’s partly why I wasn’t surprised to see reports of only 720,000 Android Wear devices shipped in 2014. There are other reasons of course: the first devices only started shipping in the middle of the year and the platform is brand new. But I think the central stumbling block to sales is convincing people that a smartwatch is worth buying.

Table stakes and notifications aren’t enough

At the moment, all of these devices offer what I’d call “table stakes” or the minimum you’d expect. That means they all have clock, alarm and stopwatch functions, for example. Of course, I’d hope a watch could actually tell the time, so this is pretty basic and obvious. Not all of them show the time constantly though, in order to save battery life.

Google I/O Motorola 360 smart watch

The second functional level is pretty much there as well: Notifications. This is where the smartwatch receives texts, emails, incoming call info and other app data from the connected phone. Android Wear is pretty good at that, the [company]Apple[/company] Watch will support these nuggets of information as well. And third-party smartwatches can do this too: Earlier this week, Pebble added full Android Wear notification support for its watches.

Health tracking helps a little

Telling time and having actionable notifications that you already have on the phone in your pocket isn’t enough though. Enter health tracking functions, which are handled through the sensors in these devices for the wrist. Nearly all have an accelerometer and/or gyroscope to track steps, movement and exercise. That’s a start.

Sony SmartWatch 3

Add in heart-rate monitors and you get more depth into the captured health data. Some, such as the Android Wear smartwatch I bought, include a dedicated GPS. Now we’re getting somewhere, because the Sony Smartwatch 3 breaks away from the connected phone for some functions and works as a standalone device.

Standalone devices vs. accessories

And that brings me to the crux of the problem when it comes to cracking the code for massive smartwatch sales: Most of the devices currently or soon available aren’t standalone devices. You need a [company]Google[/company] Android phone for nearly all of the functions an Android Wear watch provides. The same holds true for the Apple Watch; you’ll need an iPhone to use the watch.

Apple Unveils iPhone 6

So the question becomes: How do you convince consumers to spend $200, $300 or more for device that is an accessory to the phone? I think that’s the biggest obstacle here before the smartwatch market can ever tout sales of 100 million or more devices.

Context is a plus, but is it enough?

Google has a bit of an edge here with Android Wear because it takes advantage of its own Google Now service. This provides contextual notifications that are optimized for consumption at a glance; precisely the type of useful information that works well on a watch and something I hoped for months before Google announced Android Wear.

Got a meeting coming? Your watch reminds you in advance. Is there traffic now that could impact travel time to your job? The watch will let you know. Essentially, Google Now on the wrist tells you things you need to know that you didn’t need you know. Although Apple’s Siri can’t do this yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets an upgrade for the Apple Watch and this becomes a “killer feature” of the device.

Joanna Stern Google Now

Even so, this contextual conversation with timely, personal reminders still relies on the smartphone you already have, in which case you can get the same information and reminders from that phone. I’m hoping the Wi-Fi radio in my Sony Smartwatch 3 cuts that cord a little in the future. For now, we have to remember that smartwatches of today are still secondary to the phones we already have.

Are apps the answer?

Mobile apps helped propel smartphone adoption but I’m not yet sold that it will do the same for smartwatches. Sure, it’s handy to use an app optimized for the wrist when the phone is in your pocket. Does it add a tremendous amount of value? I’m not convinced; at least not yet.

There’s a convenience factor but it’s pretty limited. For the moment, these apps are simply a way to interact differently — and usually less so — with their full-featured smartphone cousins. App makers are also constrained on smartwatches with limited hardware and screen space; at a time when phones are getting bigger and there’s more room to work with, developers have to pick, choose and cram functions into a smartwatch app, often just mirroring similar information from the phone.

Pushing data from one screen to another isn’t worth $200 or more for most consumers. So it’s early days for this market and until we can find some other features or functions we want in a smartwatch — and device makers have the technology to implement them — this market is still one for high-priced accessories where the value proposition isn’t yet compelling for most people.