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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.

This column is not a review. I want to tell you about Android Wear's effect on the mind.

I do a technology show every weekday (shameless plug: Tech News Today airs at 10 a.m. Pacific on the TWiT network). After Thursday's show, I drove to the Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco to pick up an LG G watch.

After collecting it and getting it working, I jumped back into the car and started slowly clawing my way through city traffic to head back home to Petaluma. At my first red light, I began wondering about the exact definition of a word that I sometimes use with a general but not exact understanding of its definition. Without even removing my hand from the wheel, I turned my wrist slightly and said in completely natural speech: "OK, Google: Define rife." About a second later, the definition silently appeared on my wrist. I scanned the definition and said "Wow!" Then the light changed and I drove off.

Looking up a word is the least powerful, least interesting thing one might do with wearable technology. Yet it was thrilling because of where and how the interaction occurred. The wrist is a perfect place for instant, quickly scannable data. All the we-don't-have-to-accept-ignorance qualities of the smartphone revolution are multiplied when an Android Wear watch is on your wrist.

Over the next few hours, simple notifications appeared, which gave me nice nuggets of knowledge without causing any disruptive shift in attention. It was like Google Glass, but more subtle and therefore more intimate and personal.

Here's the most important takeaway from this column — the wrist is a spectacularly perfect place to get notifications, launch voice commands and get Google Now cards. Like the iPad, it feels so good — you'll know it when you feel it.

It's like Google Glass, minus the camera and the social stigma. When I wear Glass, I always kind of brace myself for the weird feeling I get from wearing such a conspicuous and controversial piece of gear in public.

I wear Google Glass because the upsides outweigh the downsides. But there is no downside to wearing an Android Wear device. Android Wear gives you most of the nonphotography benefits of Google Glass, with zero impact on your social interactions. Nobody really notices a smartwatch. Nobody feels threatened by it. And that makes it more personal and usable.

There's one fact that has been overlooked by just about everyone commenting about Android Wear. Unlike even the iPad, Android Wear is the first platform I've seen that ships with its "killer app."

Every successful platform has a killer app that launches it into the stratosphere — the one application or use case that makes it so compelling that you have to have one. Every failed platform fails because its killer app never emerges.


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