How Android Wear Works

I Want It All (and I Want It Now)

Android Wear pursues a different philosophy than older watches or phones of the smart variety. Like Google Glass, its approach is more contextual, more about enhancing your experience of where you are and what you are doing. And the key to it all is Google Now.

Google Now is a service that formerly rode shotgun on the Google Search app found on Android phones running Jelly Bean (versions 4.1 and newer). It has since spread to Google Glass, as well as to desktops, portables and tablets. Although Web types at times dismiss it as Google's answer to Siri, its design philosophy and features are all together more personal and specific [sources: Google; Olivarez-Giles].

Basically, Google Now works by monitoring your search patterns, Web history and, optionally, apps and programs. Based on what it finds there, it tries to supply useful info or alerts before you think to ask -- things like traffic and weather at your location or destination, incoming messages, sports scores, package tracking info, currency conversions, translation help and travel tips. With your permission, it also can pull information from your Google accounts like Gmail or from third-party products. To ensure that you get the information that you want when and where you need it, Google Now tracks the time of day, your current location and your location history [sources: Google; Olivarez-Giles; Wood].

Android Wear distills all of this Google Now business into a form that will fit on a tiny screen. Indeed, part of Android Wear's appeal lies in this new, streamlined user interface (UI), which combines simple contextual information, verbal commands and swiping. Think of each screen display as a card, a sticky note's worth of information. Google's service sends a virtual stack of these cards, called a "context stream," to your smart watch or other wearable, where you can flick through them as needed. A typical implementation would use vertical swipes to page through the main landing cards, then use left or right swipes to drill down into sub cards that offer added particulars on the chosen topic [sources: Google; Google].

When all else fails, you can always say "OK Google," which will activate voice input for texting, e-mailing or other data entry. This command will also take you to a special menu called the "cue card" where you can access various options, including tailoring your voice commands to specific apps [sources: Chen; Google; Google; Motorola].

With the launch of Android Wear, all the pieces are in place for a wearables renaissance, but Google's real advantages over the competition hinge on its massive app marketplace and its relationship with the wide array of hardware developers that already run Android.