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.
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.
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.