The buzz has been crazy around the Apple Watch, but as sales start to plateau, it gives us a chance to look at how the smartwatch space might shake out in the coming months and years. Last Wednesday, we discussed a few of the indicators in our Office Hours primarily focusing on Android Wear – Google’s platform for smart wearable devices.
The big question was: how does Android Wear compare to Apple Watch? And should developers care?
Let’s start with what we know now: Apple Watch is annihilating the competition in terms of device sales. It’s not even a little bit close. Apple sold more Watches on the first day of pre-order than all Android Wear devices in its first year. Conservative estimates put Apple Watch around 15-20M unit sales this year. Android Wear sold 720,000 last year (though interestingly, Apple is keeping mum as to actual numbers of Watches shipped and sold).
Second, a quick history lesson…
Android began as the smartphone follower, but it didn’t stay that way. Last year, more than 1 BILLION Android devices were shipped – compared to around 175M iOS devices. Given the openness of the Android platform, combined with embracing dozens of device manufacturers at all price points, it’s no surprise that Android now owns over 60% of the smartphone market – compared to Apple’s 20%.
It’s very possible that Apple Watch is simply introducing smartwatches to the masses, breaking out of the techy bubbles and into popular culture and fashion in a way only Apple can do. Yet the real winner could still be Android, who has proven itself to be flexible and open to many different devices and demographics. All this, coupled with the fact that over a half billion Android devices will be shipped with Wear capabilities this year, gives Android a very big opportunity to end up on wrists everywhere.
The Development Features
Looking at capabilities, the Android Wear SDK and Apple Watch SDK are very similar. There are just a few small differences, but nothing to keep you on one platform over the other. And in typical fashion, Apple and Google seem to be playing feature tag with every release.
Currently, Android Wear can interact directly with WiFi, removing the requirement to be actively paired with a phone to provide connectivity (Apple is releasing this very feature in their next update).
One feature I very much appreciated in my development was Android’s Data Sync Layer, which provided a seamless way to cache data that is automatically shared between the watch and the phone. This mechanism was in addition to a Messaging API that provides real-time communication and allowed for seamless data transfer – even when both devices were not in Bluetooth range.
Data flow for Android Wear
Where we should really be paying attention is the Wear devices themselves, where Android can really differentiate itself. There are several unique Android Wear devices already on the market, and more in the pipeline. This variety in design, functionality, and price is where Android can stand out from the crowd and engage users in mass quantities.
As more wearables pop into the market, we developers will likely go through a range of emotions just as we did with Android phones and tablets… “Oh, wow! Lots of new devices! How fun!”… “Holy crap, how can I support all this fragmentation?!”… “Whew, the SDK and tools are evolving, this isn’t as bad as it used to be”… “Swimming through this giant pool of money is great cardio”…
Or something like that…
So don’t be afraid of new devices, embrace them! It means lots more users, and the tools will accommodate these growing pains as needed.
At the end of the day, nobody knows how this market will shake out. It’s still a very nascent space and we don’t know how much smart watches will be embraced (if at all). I, for one, am going to port my apps to watches everywhere (where it makes sense, of course) – because… why not? Both Apple and Google have provided great SDKs which allow you to extend your existing app very quickly so the barrier to entry is quite low for existing developers.
I don’t expect watches to be as prevalent as phones by any means, but if even a fraction of the existing market can be captured, we are talking about tens of millions of users who have a new way to interact with your app. And that is a number worth noting.
If you’re interested in learning how to build an app for Android Wear, check out our open source tutorial to create your first watch app in minutes. To see our full discussion from last week’s office hours, you can find it on our YouTube Channel.
And stay tuned for our next Office Hours – we hope to see you there!