Android Wear should double down on contextual alerts, not voice

What do we want? Google Now! When do we want it? I mean, now...
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I have plenty of nice things to say about Android Wear 2.0, but I must admit, after more than two months of using Google's long-awaited smartwatch platform, I barely ever find myself talking to Android Assistant. We're just not that great of pals.

Don't get me wrong - I think Assistant is good, and the conversation starts to flow a little more when I'm plonked on the sofa and she's in my Google Home, but for the rest of the time we keep to ourselves, and I've been wondering why.

Because I think it's a real shame. Google's contextual aide can be incredibly useful - when she works - and is always poised to answer my queries, an internet's wealth of knowledge at her fingertips. When it comes to Android Wear though, I wonder if, for the time being, Google should be looking more to grow and refine the Now experience, rather than turning to voice.

A key problem is that we're just not ready to talk into our smartwatches. Call me out of touch, but it doesn't feel like a lot of people are speaking into their wrists, probably because it just... feels weird. The ease of whipping out our phone and typing on a keyboard outweighs the risk of Siri/Google Assistant/Alexa getting it wrong and the potential embarrassment that comes with it. And let's be honest, even if you're out in public and Assistant nails it first time, you can still feel that social stigma bearing down on you.

The second problem is that Google Assistant requires prompting, while the Google Now cards have been relegated to only the occasional contextual alert that try to be relevant to what I'm doing at that moment. Sure, it's a little less intrusive than all the pop-ups of Wear 1.0, and I'll be the first to admit that Now cards could be annoying as hell, but I also think those updates are better suited for the smartwatch experience. And while complications are great, they're not quite as dynamic.

In fact, I think contextual alerts have long been one of Google's strongest suits, and when Google announced it would bake them into the very first version of Android Wear, I thought it had a good edge on Apple. It's a Faustian bargain admittedly, but by giving Google access to all of our data it can provide some genuinely helpful and relevant information in return. Google's Now cards are one of my favourite parts of my Pixel phone.

A little buzz to tell me there's more traffic than usual on my commute route, or that my flight has been delayed, or just an update on the weather for the next few hours can really justify the smartwatch experience. By growing and refining the stream of relevant information coming to our smartwatches, it would give us fewer reasons to reach for our phone - at least until voice is where it needs to be.

Google has done a great job of making Android Wear 2.0 a much slicker experience, but it also needs to focus on its strengths if it's going to stand up to Apple, Fitbit and others, and as a gatekeeper of the internet we all know what its biggest strength is: knowledge.


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