Wearable computing has been a buzzword for so long that it's easy to get blinded by the hype and not realise that actually it's a reality; and one that got even more real with the announcement by Google of Android Wear. Forget the fitness bands of today and the 'smart watches' of yesteryear, with Android Wear Google hopes to get the jump on Apple (likely to announce a smart watch iOS platform real soon now) by extending the hugely popular Android OS to wearables. The starting point of this strategy being smart watches that combine time-telling with app notifications, voice access to Google Now for directions, phone calls and replying to texts etc, and not forgetting the ability to control other devices for good measure (playing music on your smartphone, casting a movie to your TV from your tablet, opening a garage door...)
Consumers, at least in the US, will be able to get their hands on the first of the Android Wear devices real soon in the shape of the new Moto 360 from Motorola, which is promised to start rolling out this summer. Google says it is "working with consumer electronics manufacturers, chip makers and fashion brands who have committed to fostering an eco-system of watches in a variety of styles, shapes and sizes" so consumers can expect a whole host of choices to arrive during the course of 2014 and, I imagine, especially as we approach the festive holiday shopping season. But what about the opportunities that Android Wear opens up to app developers, who will be able to extend existing products into this new territory and more excitingly as far as I am concerned come up with entirely new apps that are designed specifically for the wrist as it were? As a developer, here are five things you need to know about Android Wear in order to get started down the road to creating wearable Android apps.
1. Download the Developer Preview
Sign up here and download the Developer Preview which will allow you to start tailoring your existing app notifications for watches powered by Android Wear. The Developer Preview program will give you access to new APIs, and sample code, for building enhanced wearables notifications and an Android Wear Preview app that includes an Android Wear emulator.
See the official Google introduction video here.
2. Understand the new UI
Android Wear comes with a totally new UI model consisting of two main spaces that are centred around the core functionality of 'suggest and demand'. Suggest comes in the form of the context stream, a vertical list of information display cards. Think like a version of the Google Now stacking card decks as seen on tablets and smartphones but with just one card on screen at a time with background imaging for additional information. These cards can injected, by your app, into the information stream to provide enhanced notifications by offering the ability to reveal additional pages through horizontal swiping. Demand, on the other hand, uses cue cards for where a context stream could not anticipate user input; so think OK Google and you are there. These cue cards let users speak commands, and swiping up on a card reveals a list of possible spoken actions, which can also be tap activated.
3. Get to grips with the Android Wear vision
Google admits that designing a great user experience for the Android Wear platform will be a substantially different kettle of fish than phone or tablet app design. In order to best get a handle on this, you will need to understand the Android Wear 'vision' that Google has, namely that the experience will be: contextually aware and smart, glanceable, demanding of zero or low user interaction, helpful and by combining all of this providing a smart connection to the rest of the world while respecting the user's attention. In other words, Android Wear wants to be personal and global, simple and smart, unobtrusive and ever-ready.
4. Understand notification UI patterns
Many of the same Android Design guidelines will apply to Android Wear notifications, as these appear as cards and form the core of the user experience. The main thrust of developing a successful app for Android Wear would have to, therefore, be summed up as being: "respectful of users' attention and aware of how unnecessary interruptions will reflect on your application’s reputation." So Google suggests omitting needless text from your notifications, designing for glanceability rather than reading, and show rather than tell. The use of icons and glyphs will convey your message better than sentences can; but if you do need to use text then keep it to simple words and short phrases.
5. Don't flood the user stream
Make good use of notification stacks that can be used to collect multiple notifications from the same application into a single stack of cards. Unlike pages, which are used to provide additional detail on a single notification, stacks are used to collect multiple sibling notifications together and can be expanded by the user. Always think about combining multiple concurrent notifications into a stack, the user will thank you for it by not deleting your app...