Android Wear has the vision, Apple Watch has the execution

We’re talking Android Wear this week, and back to our regularly scheduled program after a brief diversion with Windows 10.

Today I’d like to compare Google’s Android Wear with the Apple Watch. Of course, we don’t have complete information on the latter, and Apple will definitely change a few things from now until release — but we’ve seen enough to come to some conclusions.

Google’s fundamental philosophy for the smartwatch diverges greatly from Apple’s. Google wants you to use voice to perform actions whenever you can — when you tap on an Android Wear watch face, the only prompt you get is Google’s command to “Speak now.” The list of actions and apps you can scroll through after is a secondary option.

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Conversely, Apple is sticking with the paradigm it popularized for the smartphone — there’s a homepage which you access different apps from. You use a finger to pick an app and return to the homepage to pick another. Apple introduced the digital crown specifically to make that easier. Voice control is an afterthought, if it even exists.

Google wants you to think about what actions you want done, and to just command it.

Apple wants you to think about which apps do what, match the app with the action you want, look for that particular app with your finger, open it, and then tap the buttons necessary to get the action done. It’s a system that already feels tedious on the phone, and probably even more so on a small device like a watch. But it’s also tried and true — people know it and understand it.

Compare that to Google’s OS: if you want to access a particular app on Android Wear, you can, but it’s buried in a list of lists.

Whose approach is right? Long term, I’d have to favor Google’s. Short term, where the Mountain View company falls short is that voice commands aren’t quite ready for the prime time. It mostly works, but when it comes to navigation you need it to work well all the time, not most of the time.

I shouldn’t need to wonder what is the correct voice command — I should just say what I want and the OS should correctly understand it. Android Wear is not quite that yet, and that’s a big issue.

The Xbox One had similar problems with the Kinect, and that’s not turning out well for Microsoft.

Google may have the right vision, but Apple may have the right execution.

We’ll see which wins.

I do hope that Google and Android Wear manufacturers will copy Apple’s digital crown. It would still just be a stopgap until voice becomes good enough, but any control mechanism that doesn’t require me to dirty my glass face with fingerprints would be welcome.

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