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Putting the 'smart' in 'smartwatch': Google showcases Android Wear's contextual awareness

You’ll never have to talk to a person to order pizza, or embarrass yourself by not knowing what Limburger cheese is, once you strap an Android Wear watch to your wrist. At least that’s the promise delivered by David Singleton, Google’s director of engineering for Android, during the Google I/O keynote on Wednesday.

In taking the wraps off Android Wear, Singleton focused on its features, which are designed to give you glanceable yet actionable information at contextually appropriate times with simple swipe-and-voice navigation. But he also dropped some news on when we’ll be able to have Android Wear on our own wrists: The LG G Watch and newly announced Samsung’s Gear Live are both available for preorders starting Wednesday on the Google Play Store, and the round Moto 360 will go on sale later this summer. “Those are just the first three watches,” Singleton said. “There are many more on the way.”

Google at a glance

People check their phones 125 times a day on average, Singleton explained. So Android Wear wants to give you all that information but in a way that’s quicker and more immediate than digging out your phone, so you can get back to what you’re doing.

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Android Wear will surface the cards it thinks are most important—like a flight later on today.

Android Wear shows you Google Now style cards, and you navigate between them with up-and-down swipes, or swipe them offscreen to dismiss. If a card wants to show you more information than fits on your watch screen, it’ll display a page indicator that you can swipe to get more details.

The cards use the new Material Design announced Wednesday for Android L to add a feeling of depth—they appear to be floating ever so slightly above the background images. On a typical day, you might get a card for your local weather forecast, your commute time, a package shipment, and so on.

When demonstrating that package-tracking card, Singleton added a geofenced reminder to himself, by simply speaking to his Android Wear watch: “OK Google, remind me to check the mail box when I get home.” That reminder was immediately synced back to his Android phone. You can also leave yourself voice notes (although that demo didn’t work on stage) and ask Google questions, in case you need help identifying unfamiliar stinky cheeses on a restaurant menu and you’re too shy to ask the waiter but not too shy to ask your watch.

google io android wear swipe

Swipe through cards just how you would on your Android phone. Notifications you dismiss from the watch disappear from your phone, too.

Android Wear watches will vibrate when you receive a phone call on your paired Android smartphone, letting you swipe to reject the call from your watch, or swipe up to send a quick-reply SMS message. If you’re going into a meeting and don’t want your watch buzzing or lighting up, just swipe down from the top of the screen to turn on Do Not Disturb mode.

google io android wear directions

Turn-by-turn walking directions on your watch is another handy feature of Android Wear.

Google Now is amazing when traveling, and your Android Wear watch can keep you updated on your flight status, show the QR code on your boarding pass, your hotel address when you land, the local weather, restaurant reservations, local transit schedules, and even what time it is back home.

The notifications won’t be limited to smartwatches; at a Wednesday afternoon session at I/O, Timothy Jordan, a staff developer advocate at Google, said that Glass users will get the same notifications as Android Wear in the next few months.

Developers can Wear it too

But apps and notifications aren’t limited to Google Now—the cards on your Android Wear watch can come from apps on your phone or even on the watch itself. Android developers can use the Android Wear SDK to write apps directly for the watch, or use the new APIs in Google Services to send data between a watch and an Android phone and tablet.

google io android wear eat 24

If you have Eat24 on your Android phone, its Android Wear component will be on your watch too. 

For example, Eat24 has an Android app that lets you order delivery and takeout food. The developers can bundle a wearable app inside the main Android app, and it’ll be installed to your Android Wear watch—and automatically kept updated—when you install the main app to your phone. Launch it, and you can reorder your last few Eat24 meals with just a few taps. Singleton gleefully ordered a pizza from the stage in less than 20 seconds.

Social recipe app Allthecooks has an Android Wear component too—as you swipe through the steps of a recipe on screen, the recipe on your phone advances a step so it’s always in sync. And when a step calls for a timer, that number is highlighted blue on the watch and you can just tap it to start the clock.

Allthecooks on Android Wear

Apps can stay in sync between an Android Wear watch and the phone app, such as recipes from Allthecooks.

Developers will be able to use the sensors in each Android Wear watch, as well as the voice command. The Lyft app will let you say, “OK Google, call me a car,” for example. Lyft on the watch grabs your location from your phone, and you can verify that with a tap, track the car’s progress to you, and even rate your driver all from your wrist.

Updated at 4:20 p.m. PT to note that similar notifications will come to Google Glass.

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