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Why Android Wear is the new iPad

Mike Elgan | June 30, 2014
Mobile gadget revolutions happen only twice per decade. And one happened this week.

It's bulky and awkward. We have smartphones, so it's unnecessary. It's a solution in search of a problem. You can't read it in sunlight. The screen gets all smudgy. It's too expensive. It's dumb.

That was the consensus "expert" reaction to Apple's iPad four years ago.

Android smartwatch
The Moto 360 smartwatch, with Android Wear, was shown at the Google I/O developers conference this week. The smartwatch is expected to be available later this year. (Photo: Zach Miners / IDG News Service)

The consensus was wrong, and the erroneous judgments emerged because pundits lacked three things. First, they lacked personal experience — most initial naysayers hadn't tried it yet. Second, they lacked the cultural context — those who dismissed the iPad pretended that human nature and culture were irrelevant, and that consumer electronics exist in a vacuum somehow. And third, they lacked a broader vision — the anti-iPad crowd couldn't imagine the influence of the iPad user interface on the larger world.

Google handed out free Android Wear devices at its Google I/O conference Thursday. I got one. (It's a review unit that I will be sending back; we don't accept gifts from the companies we cover.)

Already I'm hearing the exact same list of complaints about Android Wear watches that I heard about the iPad, and for the exact same reasons.

And I'm going to say the same things about Android Wear that I (correctly) said about the iPad: Android Wear will be an addictive and massive cultural phenomenon, and its primary benefit is a lack of features — minimalism is what makes it so powerful.

The promise
As was the case with the iPad, the experience of using an Android Wear device is transformative and completely unlike what you might imagine it to be. You have to experience it to understand its pull.

Yes: Android Wear is flawed, clunky and not ready for prime time. The LG G watch I'm using is too bulky and square — the round ones will be much better. And even the coveted round Moto 360 is too big.

But Android Wear watches are the first smartwatches to cross the line from awkward to awesome, because they're the first to completely abandon the smartphone's icons, menus and widgets paradigm and massively leverage subtle contextual cues, images, icons and colors to present tiny nuggets of information in their most essential and quickly graspable form.

You can read other articles to learn all the Android Wear details, find out what Android Wear is like to use and discover how smartwatches will become widely used. You will be inundated in reviews.


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