Introduction to Wearables (part 1)

Wearable devices are definitely one of the most exciting and coolest technologies of 2014 along with drones and smart cars. Hardware producers, software companies and even start-ups are pushing the boundaries beyond what is just being on a handheld device, struggling to open new challenges and attract new customers. Something similar has been already seen when smartphones were just at the beginning of their appearance, but this time the purposes and targets of this technology are a little bit different. It is not just a matter of keeping the user connected with the World outside but it’s more about offering him new services, getting more from/into his life. Sensors can collect data about user activities (heart rate, pedometer, burn calories, sleep hours…) allowing to know more from the user’s context and his behaviors. Embedding them on wearable devices(smartwatches, rings, betls,…) can grant almost a 24 hours coverage, attracting the user to use something that he is already used to wear but with more functionalities and fancier.

Android is well known for being portable across the most different types of devices and it can be a good candidate even for wearables. I said “it can be” because, from an user point of view, this is not enough: to get onto wearable devices it has to be simpler, possibly transparent, more concise and it has to target particular user interactions. Having said that, I want to move straight forward to Android Wear and to look at how Google has made and is still making a big effort to achieve these goals. Starting from some UI concepts and considerations, we will move swiftly to the technical side of them, building and enriching an app that can run on handheld devices and smartwatches. I want to precise Smartwatches because at the moment AndroidWear is meant to work only on them.

This introductory part is just the first one of 6 tutorials that will let you extend existing Android apps and/or create new ones that will take advantage of AndroidWear.

To get a better understanding to how things work, we’ll create a simple app that manages books allowing the interaction with pending orders. All the presented code will be available on GitHub at:

Getting back to the foundations of a simpler user experience for the user, Android Wear changes, supports and introduces new concepts in the UI model:

  • Context Stream: literally a channel populated by what matters to the user.
    • card suggestions similar to the Google Now ones
    • vertical navigation between multiple types of cards
    • the user can swipe left to right in order to dismiss cards
    • the user can access card related pages and actions

context stream card

  • Cue Card: actions accessible through the user’s interaction.
    • demanded by the user through the “Ok Google” voice action or simply tapping on the homescreen
    • allows to access things not already suggested in the ContextStream
    • swipe vertically through all available operations (apps, settings,…)

cue card

  • Watch Faces: the user can pick different faces for his watch by a long tap on the home screen.

watch faces

  • Ambient Mode: the device can enter in this mode in order to preserve resources. Being on an even smaller device imposes even more restrictions on what the apps should do in order to maintain the best user experience and his happiness.
  • Zero or low interaction: apps and cards displayed on Android Wear don’t have to be a port of apps for handheld devices. A smaller screen should enforce a smarter approach while landing on wearables. People will not use wearables to spend hours like on their phones but to do powerful things with their new companion in just few steps.

To conclude and summarize this first introduction, when you design/develop for Android Wear you should take care about simplicity and focus on what really matters to the user. In the next parts we will land on wearables setting up the environment, debugging and enriching the notifications system of a sample app.

Thanks for having spent some of your time reading this post.
I hope to see you soon again.


About alchemiasoft

Android Developer at Bloomberg LP. Algorithms and performance passionate. Curious. Eager to learn.

Posted on December 14, 2014, in Android, Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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