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Android Wear: Details on the Developer Preview

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Google has announced Android Wear, the anticipated platform for wearable devices, making available the Developer Preview for those enthusiasts that want to get in touch with this new feature or get a head start in making the first applications tailored for such devices.

One of the good news coming out of Google is that Android Wear is paired with a host device – smartphone, tablet – and natively supports the host’s notifications. That means that all Android apps that generate notifications do not have to do anything else to see their messages on an Android watch. But, developers are still invited to create specific apps that take advantage of the new platform’s interface.

It seems that most of Google’s work on Android Wear is related to its User Interface and Design Principles, since the associated platform code is just a 30KB JAR file. The UI consists of two main components: a stream of cards and a way of taking user commands via touch or voice. The cards contain notifications shown on background images, the user navigating through cards with vertical swipes. Each card can have multiple pages accessed with horizontal swipes from right to left. A card can be dismissed with a left-to-right swipe. Cards can be stacked and can be accompanied by a notification sound and/or vibration.

These cards can contain complex notifications such as GMail or Music, including icons associated with commands such as Reply to Email or Play Next Song. While an email reply cannot be typed on the keyboard-less device, it can be dictated over the incorporated microphone.

Android Wear’s design principles are meant to provide “just the right information at just the right time.” For this purpose, Wear experiences need to be:

  • Contextually aware and smart: provide the information based on location and at the right time
  • Glanceable – the information is concise, uses images or icons
  • Zero/low interaction – no or little interaction via swipes or voice
  • Helpful – the main idea for such a device is to be “efficient, respectful, responsive.”

The specifications for future Android Wear devices have not been made public, but we can draw some early hints from the existing preview code and emulator. The emulator runs on Android 4.4.2 while the host preview application needs 4.3+. So, earlier phones up to 4.2 won’t work with Wear devices. That is because Wear uses the new notification mechanism introduced in 4.3.

There are two types of emulators: Round and Square. Both support Bluetooth, WiFi, NFC, Jazz Hands multi-touch (5+ fingers) and have a large collection of sensors. They are configured with a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, Adreno 320 GPU and 512 MB of RAM.

Xamarin has released the same day an Android Wear Developer Preview component that lets developers create apps which interact with Wear devices using Xamarin toolchain.

Motorola and LG have announced the first Android Wear watches, but the actual specs have not been provided yet. Asus, HTC, and Samsung are to follow. Fossil Group, a design company specializing in fashion accessories and owner of many brands including Armani, Diesel, adidas Originals, has also shown their intent to enter the Android wearable market.


Note: Developers are warned not to release to the public applications developed with this preview because the underlying code is about to change.

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