What to Wear?

One of the benefits of being curious about technology and running a company where we get to buy it to test on, is that I get to play with a lot of cool gadgets. When it comes to watches alone I have the Apple Watch, LG G, LG Watch R, Moto 360, Samsung Galaxy Gear and the Sony Smartwatch 3. I thought it might be interesting to compare Android Wear and Apple Watch as they are today.

Hardware
Hardware wise nothing matches the build quality of the Apple Watch. The way the bands work, the level of finish present in the body, stunning. There is only one body design, in two sizes, which you can customise with different bands. I personally don’t find the rectangular design of the Apple Watch appealing. It’s not ugly by any stretch, more just unassuming. That makes sense, if you only have one watch you have to make it unassuming to match all the different bands people might choose.
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Android Wear watches on the other hand are cheaper and vary wildly. The LG G and Galaxy Gear were the first two out of the gate in June of 2014. Both chunky and square, they feature designs only their mother would love.
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The Moto 360 and LG R on the other hand reference more traditional watch vocabulary and opt for round designs. The 360 looks like a watch from the future, while the LG R tries very much to blend in as a watch from the past.
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None of the Android Wear watches are built to the same standard as the Apple Watch, but for me they have one huge advantage: you can pick the style you like best. Personally I prefer the LG R because when I put it on, it looks like a watch. Apart from its size, it’s unassuming and most people don’t comment on it because it looks like a regular watch.

One important thing to note: if you have small wrists and don’t like huge watches, all but Apple’s 38mm watch are not for you.

Hardware
Between all the watches listed above there are 3 different screen technologies being used: OLED (Apple, LG R, Samsung), LCD (LG G, Moto 360) and Transflective (Sony). Out of the current crop the Apple Watch stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s clear, easy to read from any angle and bright.

When you’re not using the Apple Watch, the screen turns off. You can tap a button, tilt your wrist or tap the screen to turn it on. Android Wear on the other hand has an ‘ambient mode’. This means when you’re not using it you can still see a low power version of the information it’s currently showing.

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Once you have ambient mode and can read the time and your latest card at all times, it’s really hard to go back. I’d bet good money that Apple will introduce this feature to Apple Watch in the future.

Modes
The Apple Watch feels like a small iPhone on your wrist. It has a watch face, from which you can pull up for glances, down for notifications. Press the digital crown and you’re on the home screen covered in tiny app circles. From here you can launch pre-installed apps and any third-party apps that have watch apps inside them. That’s assuming you can hit those tiny tap targets, I’m still missing and launching the wrong app all the time. There’s a dedicated friends button that brings up a list of contacts you can message. In terms of interaction models: you can touch it, force touch it, swipe up, swipe down, press the two buttons and scroll the digital crown. All in all there are a lot of ways to interact with this watch.
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Android Wear on the other hand is much simpler. Your home screen is your watch face. Cards appear at the bottom Google Now style when they are relevant. Playing something? A playing card appears on top. Upcoming meeting? A card appears telling you before you need to leave. You can dismiss a card by swiping it away. Pull the cards up to reveal more details, and swipe right to take them full screen. Apps are available too, in the latest version you tap the screen to bring them up.
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Notifications
Both Android Wear and Apple Watch let you configure which apps show notifications on your watch. By default both mirror the notifications you’re getting on your phone, to your watch. On Android Wear any notifications you dismiss are dismissed from your phone. On the Apple Watch this only seems true of iMessage and a few other select apps.

Both platforms feature actionable notifications, and these are supported on the watches as well.

Philosophies
Like a small iPhone on your wrist, the Apple watch is all about configuraiton. Pick the watch face you want from the list of predefined ones that come with it. Customise the watch face with complications. Choose your glances and their order. Select which apps do and don’t go to the watch, and sort those apps. It’s very much up to you to set it up in a way where all the glances and apps you need access to are in a familiar spot. Then it’s up to you to pull up those glances and apps when you need them.

Android wear of course lets you choose and customise watch faces too, you can even download third-party ones from Google Play. Watch faces aside though, Android Wear is very much Google Now for your watch. It tries to bring relevant information to you, at the time it thinks is appropriate. You don’t really set it up, you don’t customise glances, things just come to you. This can be an amazing experience, like when my sister visits me from interstate. A few hours before she lands her flight details appear on my watch and it tells me when I need to leave. I didn’t configure that, it automatically found her itinerary in my email and knew how to parse it. At times it feels like magic. It’s not always great though, often when I’m out somewhere it will tell me how long it takes to get home, something I don’t care for. Other times it knows I’ve googled a nearby business and will give me a card with directions to get there, even though I have no intention of going. It’s a machine trying to guess what you need, and with that comes both the magic of when it gets it right, and the annoyance when it’s wrong.

Voice Input
Both watches feature really robust voice input that seems to understand everything I say. In the case of the Apple Watch this surprised me the most, since just last year Siri could barely understand a word I was saying.

Messaging
Apple felt that contacting your friends was so important they put a giant button on the side of the watch for it. Pressing it brings up a predefined list of your favourite people who you can send weird 3D renderings, digital touch messages or just plain old text to. I’ve lost count of the amount of time I pressed that thinking it was a home button, but eventually my fingers learned that it wasn’t. So far I’ve only found this useful for scaring people with crazy looking 3D tongue guy, or sending and receiving crude pictures of human anatomy (yes, I am indeed a 5 year old). This feels like a novelty that most people won’t use past the first few weeks of having the watch. Drawing on that tiny screen is just too hard and there’s zero indication given as to if the message has been sent, or the other person read it.

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Google seems to think this is important to, and in the latest update of Android Wear it lets you message your recent friend list either by dictating text, or drawing emoji which it will then interpret. Again, not super useful for me, but your mileage may vary.

On both platforms the only messaging feature I do use is occasionally replying to a message using voice to text. It’s handy in a pinch when you don’t have access to your phone or don’t want to pull it out of your pocket.

Good Vibrations
When a notification comes in, the Android Wear watch vibrates. The vibration feels like a phone, a shaking of the device that’s hard enough that you know something is going on. You can hear the vibration too, just like on a phone, but there’s no speaker that makes noise.

The Apple Watch vibrates a lot differently. Dubbed the ‘Taptic Engine’ it does what can only be described as a gentle side to side movement of something at the base of the watch. It doesn’t feel like someone is tapping you, but more like the watch moved on your wrist. The vibration itself is almost silent, you can’t hear it happen. Out of the box the Apple Watch also plays notification sounds from its speaker, like pings when receiving an iMessage. You can turn these off in the settings. I found the taptic style vibration to be a lot better because it was less violent, and not audible to other people. That said it is gentler, which led to me sometimes not even noticing it had happened, even when I turned it up all the way.

Fitness
Both watches can track your steps, elevation and heart rate. The main differences here is that Apple’s built in Activity app seems more polished and useful. That said it has some version 1.0 bugs, like telling me to stand up when I’d already been standing for the last 20 minutes.

The Sony Smartwatch is the only one with a built in GPS, so that you can accurately map your run without needing your phone. The rest can do the same if your phone is on your person, which considering the size of phones these days is becoming less and less practical.

Both platforms sync with an information database of your health data. Apple with ‘Health’ and Google with ‘Google Fit’.

Final Thoughts
The point of this article wasn’t to review the two platforms and tell you which one is better. I simply wanted to highlight the interesting differences between the two. In any case, Android Wear watches only work with Android phones. Apple watches only work with iPhones. This means if you want a smart watch you don’t actually get to choose between the two platforms, unless you want to swap phones as well.

The Elephant On Your Wrist

John Gruber on one of two reasons Apple went with a dark UI:

Apple’s approach is more conservative energy-wise in both “on” and “off” states

Apple’s decision to have the screen display nothing while “off” was clearly a concession to battery life.

The battery-life advantages of this design are just a nice side effect.

Ok, pop quiz time. Before you take it, extra points if you read the whole of Gruber’s article. Which watch gets more battery life? The Apple Watch that is designed with a dark UI that is more ‘conservative energy-wise’ and makes ‘concessions to battery life’. Or an Android Wear watch like the LG G Watch R that has bright UIs and leaves its screen on the whole time?

If you answered the Apple Watch, you’d be wrong. The LG’s battery lasts far longer than the Apple Watch. Most days when I go to bed, there’s still 60% of it left. The quoted battery life on Google’s site is 24 hours (vs Apple’s 18) and I easily get more than that.

So the competitors have a watch that can keep the screen on with bright, vivid apps which run natively. It can connect to bluetooth devices and even WiFi connections and it still gets more battery life than an Apple Watch which has an all dark UI and turns its screen off all the time? What’s wrong with this picture?

Update: When is a mystery no longer a mystery? When iFixit teardowns the 38mm Apple Watch and finds a 205 mAh battery, compared to the 410 mAh in the LG. It all makes sense now. Thanks to Richard Gaywood for the tip.

New Android Sample Projects

One thing that has made iOS development bearable over the years is the large amount of sample code Apple provides through their dev portal. Google have always had samples too, but they’ve often felt underdone and hidden in various optional downloads. Thankfully those days are behind thanks to the new ‘Import Samples’ menu in Android Studio.

Google added some great new samples today that you should definitely check out. The two most interesting ones to me are the full featured apps they’ve built:

  • Universal Music Player – demonstrates how to build an entire music playing app, including Google Cast and Android Wear support.
  • XYZTouristAttractions – a recent addition that shows how a modern Android app should work and behave, and again integrates with Android Wear.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen samples from Apple that are as full featured as these and digging through them has taught me quite a few things. So whether you’re an iOS developer exploring the world of Android or a seasoned Android veteran, I highly recommended downloading and playing with some of these samples.

No Watch Puns Here, Sorry

Ever ask yourself why I write so much about Android and so little about iOS? Go ahead, think about it. You’re all pretty much wrong, except for you, well done to you that one person over there. I do so because iOS is covered to death in the press, and covered extremely well. My favourite site to go to for ‘the most favourable coverage possible from the Apple perspective’ is iMore. Rene (who I consider a good friend) is an artist. Is the iPhone 6 too slippery, too thin? Nope. It’s a ‘super slim core’ which you get to stylise with the case of your choice. In case you’re reading that as sarcasm, it’s really not, I have a huge amount of respect for the guy. I read John Gruber’s Daring Fireball for the more pragmatic ‘Apple PR’ type coverage. He tends to frame things slightly less positively but with just as much (if not more) inside knowledge of the inner workings of Apple. He’ll throw things out as ‘guesses’. He’ll throw shade on the competition. The timing with which he does this is invaluable to study if you want to get a feel for the inner workings of Apple and their release cycles and processes.

The problem is that same press writes things that are just plain wrong about Android. Take for example John’s article today about watch faces. He states:

…but clearly the Android Wear UI was not designed with black backgrounds in mind

And this in an ‘Update’ no less, trying to clarify that Apple aren’t the only ones with OLED displays in their watches. The reason he writes that is that I suspect he has no idea that my Android Wear watch spends 95% of its life in ‘ambient mode’…which is all about black backgrounds for UI. Here’s a gif showing watch faces and apps in ‘on’ and ‘ambient’ modes.

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Basically if you raise an Android Wear device to see the time, the screen will light up and you’ll be in ‘on’ mode. Watch faces are full colour as are apps in this mode. If you don’t interact with them after about 5 seconds they’ll revert to ‘ambient’ mode where the UI still runs, but with black backgrounds and only some pixels turned on. Animations are generally disabled in this mode as well. This is incredibly useful. It means you never end up in this situation:

and I started glancing at my watch every few minutes. But it was always off, because my wrist was already positioned with the watch face up

Daring Fireball, The Apple Watch

You can tell the time at all times, and with the newly released Android Wear 5.1, you can see your apps at all times too. What about battery I hear you yell? Well my G Watch R already gets 2 days of battery with this mode turned on. Yep, a full day more than Apple Watch.

And this kids is why I write about Android. I don’t love all aspects of it, and I certainly don’t hate Apple. I just can’t stand when I hear inaccuracies like this repeated. Yes, you’re right, I’m weird like that.

This Is Why Daddy Drinks

At Shifty Jelly we love anything new and shiny. So it was no surprise that when Galaxy S6 pre-orders went live, we ordered one. The intention was to get one for testing, because it’s always good to have the phones on hand that people use and the Galaxy series of devices are always top of the list. What happened in the week that followed shocked even me. Before I continue though, consider this a trigger warning. If you hate Samsung devices you might not like the rest of this post.

I’m going to start with one word to describe how I feel about the S6: ‘shock’. Now I’m going to use two words with a joining word: ‘disbelief and shame’. Long story short, and believe you me this is very hard to write…I…like…this phone. You could even say I like like it. For a bit of context I’ve hated every Galaxy phone that existed with the exception of the S2. I’ve hated them for so many reasons: hardware, software, marketing and prevalence. It’s the line of phones that made me sad because it’s the ones everyone was buying, but they often represented the worst possible Android experience you could have.

With the above in mind, I was sure I was going to hate the S6 as well. I mean after all, is it actually believable that Samsung could make a great phone and restrain themselves enough not to junk it up with bloatware? So when this gaudy box arrived in the office I felt my predisposition to hating Samsung was well placed. I mean just look at it:

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Philip and I joked about who would have to carry this phone around. It was a hilarious moment in Shifty Jelly history, believe me. Then I opened it and turned it on. The first thing that struck me was the build quality. It’s really good. The next thing that struck me was the screen. It’s amazing. Bright, super high density (far higher than the iPhone and Moto X I’m used to) and so beautiful. Then I was struck by the speed…this thing is fast…like really fast. Then I took a few test photos, and damned if they didn’t look better than all the same photos I was taking with my iPhone 6. In short I had a ‘huh?’ moment. Was it possible this was a good phone? Naaaah.

For a laugh I copied the setup I have on my Moto X so that I had all the same apps in the same places on the S6. I also installed Google Now Launcher and the Google Keyboard because I wasn’t a fan of the Samsung launcher or keyboard. Then I figured I should probably just use it for a bit, maybe a day. No need to put my sim card in it, just you know, pull it out every now and again.

Well, fast forward to a week later and here I am with my sim card in the phone, and my Moto X sitting at my desk at work feeling neglected. I contend that this was purely accidental. It pretty much…ummm…fell in there on its own and got stuck. Yeah that’s it, stuck! And would you believe now…yeah ok. Yes, I’m ashamed to say, I actually like a Samsung product. Compared to my beloved Moto X and often used iPhone it has a better screen, better camera, better almost everything. I feel so bad leaving my Moto X, sitting there in our cold office all night, while this new hot thing rides around in my pocket. I also feel terrible for liking a phone made by Samsung. And this kids, is why daddy drinks…

Watch This Space

The embargo date on Apple Watch reviews has clearly lifted, and they are everywhere. My personal favourite is the one at The Verge. It’s hard to say until I hold one, but it definitely seems like Apple has put in a solid effort for a version 1.0. I still predict these will sell in far greater numbers than Android Wear, because lets face it: Apple know how to sell products. Google’s “Let’s release it the second it’s ready and get user feedback” approach is cute, maybe even admirable, but it’s not a good way to launch anything.

Anyone that says the numbers will be ‘disappointing’ or ‘low’ is in for a bad time. That said I do have a few concerns:

  • The glance to look at the time action. Most reviewers seem to comment that it can take a few moments for the screen to turn on, and occasionally it doesn’t turn on at all. I had this exact experience with my Moto 360, and as odd as it might sound, it quickly became annoying. It probably only failed about 1 in 20 attempts, but those quickly add up. Watches like the LG G Watch R that have the ability to have always on, OLED screens are a much nicer experience. Basically when you’re not looking at it, Android Wear goes into ‘ambient’ mode. In this mode you can still clearly read the time and any notifications you might have without needing to wake up the watch. Once you’ve had a watch that does that, you won’t be able to go back. I’d bet that the second or third generation of Apple Watch comes with a similar feature. All that’s really required to enable it are some SDK changes and slightly better battery life. The LG watch I mentioned still has more battery life with this mode on, than the Apple Watch without it.
  • Battery life. Yes, yes, I know! “It’s fine, I can just charge it every night!”. I bet you think that’s ok, trust me, it gets annoying. Again the Moto 360 has very similar battery life, once you’ve had a watch that lasts even just 2 days (which the latest batch of Wear watches manage), you’ll realise just how much of a difference that makes. All it takes is one long night out, or staying over a friends house, or just playing with the thing too much and suddenly you have a dead weight on your wrist.
  • Watch apps that run on your phone. This part concerns me the most. On Android Wear apps run on your watch, and for the most part they are snappy and very flexible in what they can display and do. I’m concerned about Apple’s ‘template’ approach to watch app design, and how responsive that will be over a bluetooth connection.

After reading that, you might think I’m ‘negative’ or ‘down’ on the Apple Watch. You might even be thinking that I’m suggesting Android Wear is the superior platform. I’m not. I honestly think that Apple has the marketing muscle to ensure that developers rush to the Apple Watch and make really interesting things for it. This in turn will make the Apple Watch a far more interesting platform (in the short term at least). So I’m definitely bullish on it, I’m just gun shy about buying the first version. I suspect that version 2 of the watch will be something that ages far better and lives far longer.

Oh who am I kidding? I love new gadgets, I’ll be here in under 10 hours time refreshing the Apple Store if you need me…

Sweet 16

You’re 16. You’re in school. You’re sitting in class. You have a crush on another student — you’ve fallen hard. You can’t stop thinking about them. You suspect the feelings are mutual — but you don’t know. You’re afraid to just come right out and ask, verbally — afraid of the crushing weight of rejection. But you both wear an Apple Watch. So you take a flyer and send a few taps. And you wait. Nothing in response. Dammit. Why are you so stupid? Whoa — a few taps are sent in return, along with a hand-drawn smiley face. You send more taps. You receive more taps back. This is it. You send your heartbeat. It is racing, thumping. Your crush sends their heartbeat back.

You’re flirting. Not through words. Not through speech. Physically flirting, by touch. And you’re not even in the same classroom. Maybe you don’t even go to the same school.

Daring Fireball “The Apple Watch”

Translation: My name is John Gruber and I’m high as a fucking kite.

Or how it might actually go down…

You’re 16. You’re in school. You’re sitting in class. You have a crush on another student — you’ve fallen hard. You can’t stop thinking about them. You suspect the feelings are mutual — but you don’t know. You’re afraid to just come right out and ask, verbally — afraid of the crushing weight of rejection. But you both wear an Apple Watch. So you take a flyer and…no wait…you have no idea what their iMessage ID is or how to contact them. There’s also the fact that neither of you have an Apple Watch, because they are so damn expensive. You go back to day dreaming about becoming a Youtube star, at which point you’ll be able to buy both of you a watch! Then they’ll surely give you their iMessage ID! Then you can send them some taps! “Yeah that’s right I tapped them so hard” is what you’ll tell your…

…your dreaming is rudely interrupted by your teacher. She’s asking you for an answer to a question you’re almost certain you didn’t hear. Is this real life? Everybody is laughing at you.