Google threw the tech world a curveball today with its new Android Wear platform, a wearable version of Android that's starting with "smart" watches. Digging through some of the developer documentation reveals even more information on the upcoming platform than what's in the consumer-facing videos. After reading through the developer site, a rough image of Android Wear begins to take shape.


There are three major functions of Wear: a Google Now-style "homescreen" with a a scrollable list of cards, a notification system that alerts you to information from your smartphone, and a series of contextual tools that pop up during certain activities. All of these functions flow together when necessary, and they depend on a smartphone, if only for the data connection in some cases.


The "homescreen" of Android Wear (for lack of a better term) is called the Context Stream. This page will be familiar to anyone who's used Google Now: it's a series of cards with contextual information based on your Google info, like email, location, browsing history, recent Hangouts chats, et cetera. You can scroll through these items one at a time in a vertical list.

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Some cards with more information are paginated, allowing you to swipe to the right to see expanded info or an action, like replying to an email or checking in for a flight. The previews on the developer page show square and circular watches with full-color screens.


If you're ready to do something that isn't immediately obvious from the Context Stream, say "OK Google," or tap the "g" icon in the upper-left corner of the wake screen. You'll then be free to give a Google Now-style command, a la the Touchless Control on the Moto X. You can also manually scroll through a list of common actions. Developers will be able to link actions with Android apps on the phone, so new options can be presented or augmented by new apps.


According to the developer documentation, just about any Android phone or tablet app will be able to send rich notifications to an Android Wear device. These will look a lot like the cards in the Context Stream: short snippets of relevant information, with an optional photo backdrop. Again, you'll be able to swipe to the right to see expanded information (if applicable). An action button will let you perform commands on your phone without actually touching it, usually via voice, though the full capability of these actions hasn't been revealed yet.


You can check out this demonstration from Google engineer Justin Koh on voice actions from notifications:

Google is aware that a constant litany of alerts on your wrist is less than ideal, so they've put in developer guidelines for notifications. Basically, anything that doesn't make a noise or a vibration on your phone shouldn't do so on your wrist, either. There's also a basic hierarchy to the alerts: notifications should be grouped into priorities of five levels, maximum, high, default, low and minimum. This should help to make sure that only the most important information gets to you at the right time. Dismissing a notification on the watch will dismiss it on the phone as well.

Here's a look at some basic notifications and guidelines for developers.

Lastly, Wear is aware (sorry) of your current activities, or at least your location and type of movement. This should help Wear to present relevant cards on the Context Stream. One particularly dramatic example was given in the introduction video for Android Wear: a user started dancing, and the watch issued a Google Now-style pop-up appeared offering to identify the song. Developers will be able to restrict notifications based on location (via geofence) or activity, using the APIs introduced in Android 4.3.

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We're still digging deep into all the information for Android Wear posted today. Stay tuned for more info. Developers can follow the link below to sign up for the preview SDK, and the first Android Wear devices are currently scheduled for release this summer.

Source: Developer.Android.com

Michael Crider
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

  • Jeff718

    Finally something for me to be excited about. I'm not digging the current crop of upcoming smartphones, and I'm not digging the current crop of smartwatches. This, on the other hand, bring on the Android Wear devices!!

  • Aooga

    My question is, how is the sdk going to differentiate between the circular screen of some watches and the square ones of others? Will we need to design two activities?

    • danycagiva

      I think the content is scaled into the cards layout. So the content inside the cards is scaled onto the circular one.

      • Kit Tihonovich

        Lookss like it. The only API mentioned is a standard wearable api...which wraps a normal notification. Extra intent extra if you want to receive voice-to-text.

        • Aooga

          Yeah. I just registered for the preview, so hopefully i'll know more soon.

  • Corey Dunmore

    Mmmmm... Android

  • Chris
    • janzour


  • TheUndertaker21

    Google Now homescreen will be useless without internet, so it's not bad for countries with no '' always '' internet connections.

    • Roh_Mish

      And people say 1.5GB a month is enough.

      • http://jordanhotmann.com/ Jordan Hotmann

        It is for most people. I'm on wifi at home and work and so I only use ~750MB a month even if I use my phone a lot.

        • will

          I use 4GB of data on a light month with WiFi at home and school.

          • Franco Rossel

            I guess you use YouTube a lot. That's a real data sucker.

          • ddpacino


    • http://www.geordienorman.com/ George Byers

      While we are all still thinking big...... Google Loon is going to beam all the smartwatches internet!

    • Magneira

      for that you can use it as regular watch until you get to a wifi... also where did you get that this is going to be launched outside of us in the beginig? sorry man but get your act togheter, not eve chromecast is out everywhere, thats just the way things are, dont expect google to criple its smartwach and do something more offline because other countries.

      • TheUndertaker21

        I don't mind you not understanding others or the feeling of not always being online or having internet connection!

        • Magneira

          Its not me who does not understand, I live in one of those countries. You are the one who is having an unreal expectation, its not google┬┤s fault the we dont have always on internet and they should not make a cripled product just because of us.

          • TheUndertaker21

            unreal expectation! oh really ? it's bad for Google not to consider these countries as there are millions of important customers out here. nobody said it's google's fault, I said it's useless for us. and it really is. until the day that internet becomes live in every single second which won't gonna happen soon or may never happen!

          • Goose

            I'm not arguing here, but Google hasn't released products in other countries for months, and sometimes not released them at all, even though their products are well priced and would have a HUGE market in these 'countries without always on internet' (usually developing countries).
            The Galaxy Nexus didn't release where i'm from, until after the Nexus 4 released and the former became obsolete.
            The Nexus 4 didn't release either, until after it became quite outdated.
            Google Navigation support was relatively recent.
            We don't even have the Chromecast.
            As far as I see it, and I could be wrong, Google doesn't really look for volume, they're not going to go all out to enable 'offline support' just for a few users.

  • http://google.com/+ericmazariegos Eric Mazariegos

    Its happening!!!

  • Tony


  • Kit Tihonovich

    Cool, easy...just one import and wrap your notification.

  • Martin

    Love how Motorola watch looks! So classy! Was going back to iPhone but.. But now.. Mehh I won't.. Just gonna buy me LG G3 (maybe) and Motorola Watch and I will be like Mr. Gadget! :D

  • veRdiKt
  • am

    The interesting part of one video is the voice command"open the garage". Is google dropping some hints about something?

    • Simon Belmont

      Yup. Sounds like it'd be related to Android@Home or maybe an offshoot of a Nest device that can control other things in your house besides temperature

      Probably uses geofencing to know when you're at home and then, and only then, will it work. Pretty neat.

    • archercc

      I hope its not JUST the watch too, although that would have value. I use the phone as my command center for the car and would love that option as well (the range on the buttons in the mirrors suck).

      • Simon Belmont

        I actually feel the same way. While, I'll probably get an Android Wear smartwatch, I don't want this to be a reason that Google holds back similar features for phones that aren't tethered to a smartwatch.

        I don't think that's the route that Google will take, but it's something I've been uneasy about recently. I'm pretty sure that Google will do the right thing and make things universal or at least let the features bleed into their various products (smartphones, tablets, wearables).

  • Simon Belmont

    So, this is great. I'm really excited about this, but I have a question.

    Does this mean Google will never enable the low-power language core in the Nexus 5 for hands-free commands like the Moto X, because they want you to use their smartwatches? I really would love it if my Nexus 5 was always listening and could read back my texts to me hands-free via a voice command. Or, do you think that's a completely separate concept from this Android Wear? Just looking for opinions and not snarky criticism.

    • Sorian

      That seems to be a separate function in Android, specifically in Google Now Launcher.

      Open Google Now > Settings > Voice > Check Hotword Detection.

      Just check with my N7 with GNL and it has always on.
      But, if I use the default launcher that it came with, it isn't on.

      The Moto X appears to have an additional program with notification interception for some of the feature. (The What's Up/ Read Notification command)

      • Simon Belmont

        Yeah, THAT'S separate, for sure. But, I meant voice commands when the Nexus 5's screen is off using the low-power language core in the Hexagon DSP of the Snapdragon 800.

        As for notification interception, all Google would have to do is make a listener for notifications or just use the permission "Read SMS" that it already has, to read back text messages. My theory is that Google is just polishing an interface that is more conversational for completely hands-free control.

    • Sorian

      That seems to be a separate function in Android, specifically in Google Now Launcher.

      Open Google Now > Settings > Voice > Check Hotword Detection.

      Just check with my N7 with GNL and it has always on.
      But, if I use the default launcher that it came with, it isn't on.

      The Moto X appears to have an additional program with notification interception for some of the feature. (The What's Up/ Read Notification command)

    • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

      I'm relatively confident they were never planning on enabling that regardless of the smartwatch. I don't think it's a direction they planned to go, while leaving it to Motorola to stick with as a value-add.

      • Simon Belmont

        Fair enough. Even if they never enabled touchless control on the Nexus 5, it would be easy for them to enable reading back of texts or emails or notifications in general (as well as self dictated messages) via the Google Search / Now app with a simple command.

        That is something that both iOS and Windows Phone do really well (especially over Bluetooth devices). That would be something that seems like a no-brainer to include, even if touchless controls aren't involved.

        • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

          Agreed. Honestly, I've been surprised they haven't made more effort in that realm. It took them a really long time to even get voice dialing to a good level. I remember my old Windows Mobile 6.x phones had better "call X on mobile" functionality than Android did until easily ICS. For a company that had amazing voice functions, that seemed odd to me. But they're there now, and I hope they continue.

          • Simon Belmont

            Oh, man, don't even get me started on how awesome voice commands were in WinMo FIVE OR SIX+ YEARS AGO. But yeah, I think Google Search / Now has gone beyond that now, but the reading back of notifications and messages and dictated stuff hands-free is SORELY lacking and something I have been pining for forever (Siri has been able to do it since day one, and WP since Mango, I believe).

            Android 4.5 (5.0?) needs to have hands-free, conversational, reading back of stuff, trusted Bluetooth devices (and activation of Google Search / Now when the device is asleep instead of the old dialer), and Quiet Hours baked into the stock OS. If they cover that in the next release, I'll be very pleased. Really, they're all relatively easy things to add. Not difficult at all.

          • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

            I completely forgot that Windows Mobile used to read my text messages to me over Bluetooth. I'd have less use for that now that I rely on Voice and other platforms, but still, that was very cool to have.

            As for the rest, I can only hope so. I expected trusted devices in KitKat. I worry that maybe that's been left to Motorola. Granted, I have a third-party app handling that for me now, but it's not as good as baking it in.

          • Simon Belmont

            Yeah. Reading of texts and so forth is really an old trick, so it's almost appalling that a modern OS like Android still doesn't have that baked in, but I'm hopeful it will soon enough.

            Thankfully, I think Google still holds most of the patents from Motorola despite the sale, so there's nothing stopping them from doing their own trusted Bluetooth implementation. What app are you using for that, if I may ask?

          • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

            I'm not sure this sort of patent, if it even is patented, is something they would have held onto, though. That stuff's really tricky. I also think they purposefully left features like this to Motorola to help them distinguish themselves. Politics may change now that they've been sold to make that unnecessary, or they may have to maintain agreements like that in the sale. I suspect some odd stuff goes on internally.

            And I'm using Pebble Lock since I have a Pebble. For free, it activates PIN-lock if I stray too far from my watch. For a fee it adds additional Bluetooth devices and WiFi connections. So my phone works without PIN in my car or home or as long as it's near my wrist, but outside of those circumstances the PIN lock comes back. It's not quite as good as baked-in, since it can't support anything BUT a PIN, but it's decent enough.

          • Simon Belmont

            Yeah. One never really knows about patents, and it's all the murkier when a sale of a company is involved. Honestly, I really think trusted Bluetooth devices should be a feature on every phone (doesn't even have to be Android), because it's THAT useful. Hopefully we'll see some type of implementation of it in stock Android eventually.

            Thanks for the information on the app. I don't have a a smartwatch (yet) or a Bluetooth system in my car, but I do have Bluetooth headphones that I use often. I imagine Tasker could probably pull this functionality off, too. Maybe now that Google is in the smartwatch arena, trusted Bluetooth devices will become something they'd be interested in.

  • https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=iWizard Bikram Agarwal

    This is cool n all, and I'm excited too. But if I see another "Shut up and take my money" comment, I'm going to hurl.

    • Nomaan

      Shut up and take my money!

      • shaun76

        Didn't see that coming...

  • youareme7

    i wonder if sammy will put this on their new gear or just stick with the tizen shit

  • https://plus.google.com/108596272537415356460/posts Jason Farrell

    Interesting... but still not interesting enough to ever get me to wear anything on my wrist again.

    • Mike Reid

      "Wear" means it could be "worn" anywhere, if not on the wrist. But besides Glass or other head wear, somewhere on the arms seems most logical.

      I'm not interested in returning to a "wrist leash" myself, but maybe I would for certain occasions, like biking.

      I AM getting tired of taking my phone out of my pocket and switching it on just to get the time.

  • Saraladevi S

    RIP Tizen Galaxy Gears!

    • Aleksey_US

      RIP Pebble!

      • Mike Reid

        So pebble will move to Android wear.

        Tizen, on the other hand, may be dead.

    • Abhishek

      It clearly shows how its done! Same goes for Nexus and the rest.

  • Saraladevi S

    I wish we get some solar powered smart watches soon!

  • Pratik Holla

    THIS is how you do a smart watch. THIS is the SMARTwatch lol. Makes the gear look so bad!

  • Thomas Cai Jinzhan

    I am highly intrigued...the only thing that worries me of course, is the battery life...seriously, battery life in a watch is the last thing one ever worries about so this should be the number 1st priority before anything else..

  • Rahul Nebhnani

    i bet samsung is regretting using tizen for the gear!