The smartwatches are coming. Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, there's no denying the coming onslaught. In fact, it's already started. Disappointed in the first wave? Don't worry. Google's entry is coming soon, and it's going to be awesome.
We've been hearing rumours about Google's smartwatch for a while. It started with some unvetted source shouting "Nexus Watch! October 31st! Codename Gem!" at the top of his cyber-lungs, but now the Wall Street Journal—a damn reputable source—is saying Google's smartwatch is a thing, and it's mere months away from launch. It's time to start getting excited. Here's why:
You don't need leaks to get a look into Google's watch of the future, because the prototypes are already public. You don't need to search much further than WIMM—the smartwatch company Google snapped up not long ago—and its little 2011 gadget called the WIMM One. While that device never really took off, it shows what the bones of a Nexus watch will likely be. And they are good, strong bones.
The WIMM One's most fantastic feature was right on its face: a transflective bi-modal screen. The One's display had a high-powered mode that was just as bright and colourful as the one on your phone, but also a greyscale mode, better for outdoors and with low enough battery requirements to pull off always-on, like you're used to in a watch. It's a shot at the best of both worlds, a compromise between the Galaxy Gear's overkill Super AMOLED screen, and the Pebble's minimalist black-and-white LCD. A middle ground that no one has gotten quite right yet, though Qualcomm has come close with its badass Mirasol display.
But the One was also more than just a smartwatch. At least it tried to be. The WIMM One took the form of smallish, Android-powered, app-runnin' cube with a 1-inch by 1-inch screen that could be snapped in and out of the included wristband.
The idea was that eventually there would be a whole different suite of accessories you could pop your little cube into. Watchbands and... other watchbands? Some sort of freaky app belt? We never really saw the full potential though, since the accessories never actually showed up.
And that's where Google comes in. Though Gem is an undeniably god-awful codename for anything, much less a smartwatch, it points at a modular approach that could be fascinating. If this new Google Nexus smart-cube really is just an Android-powered "gem" that's incidentally a watch, there's potential that these little suckers could Voltron together into something greater.
Maybe, just maybe, these are not just watches, but tiny brains that could also be put to use in the Android-powered home of the future? Who knows, and it's probably too early to guess and also pretty incidental for now. But with a serious push from Google, that cubey form factor has a better chance at fulfilling its potential than it ever has before.
Of course, given that the WIMM One came out way back in 2011, it's only reasonable to assume that the next model was already well on the way before Google got to it. But it seems safe to guess that features like the screen and probably the modularity are here to stay. What it'll look like when Google spits it out is anybody's guess, but the WIMM One had a kind of potential that was just begging for a high-powered suitor like Google, and it's only reasonable to assume the "WIMM Two" is better.
But a great smartwatch is more than just hardware. A watch that can show you stuff only actually matters if it can show you good stuff. The current smartwatches can at best boast previews of texts and emails. That's great and all, but it's also a luxury, hardly something you can convince yourself you really, really want, much less really, really need. But Google is in the perfect position to give you something new. Something more.
Google knows you. Unless you're completely off the grid, Google already knows where you live, where you work, what you like, who you know, what you search for, what your favourite sports teams are, and who knows what else. It sounds a little frightening when you list it out like that, but the benefits to you are immediately apparent if you've ever so much as glanced at Google Now. And that's what Google is counting on, what Google is basing its future around. You can think of this as a "Nexus" watch sure, but a Google Now watch is where the awesome future stuff is.
Imagine it: A Nexus watch establishes a pipeline directly from Google's vast stores of information about you right to your eyes, with just a casual glance at the wrist. What time does the next train leave the subway station? How much longer is your drive to work? What's the current score of the [INSERT FAVOURITE SPORTBALL TEAM] game? It's all right there on your arm, without even having to ask for it. We're talking about Google Now in its most palatable form. This is Google Glass, except with a maybe kinda dorky watch on your wrist, instead of totally dorky cyborg glasses all up on your face. All for a price tag that's maybe a thousand notes cheaper.
But it's not just that Google's watch can be a Google Now machine, it's that it can be a Google Now machine from Google. Ain't no middle man here. Take a second and just look at your other options out there right now. The Samsung Galaxy Gear actually nerfs notifications that come straight from Google services like Now, or even Gmail or Hangouts, showing only dumb notifications instead of the smart ones you get from (ugh) Samsung apps. Meanwhile third-party watches like the Pebble or Sony's Smartwatch have to graft their functionality onto whatever points of access Google already provides, going so far as to strip info out of your phone's notifications because they can't get it directly (yet, anyway).
But a Nexus watch wouldn't be handicapped, and has no reason to do anything but feed you Google's premium predictive data with all due speed and convenience. We're talking not only about Google Now, of course, but also Calendar and Gmail and Hangouts and Maps. And the WSJ reports that that data can come right through Google Now. You don't have to be some sort of crazy Google fanboy to get value out of that. You just have to be normal.
It doesn't stop there either. That's just the scenario you'd have waiting for you at launch. A Google Now watch would also improve Google Now. It gets better as you use it, in the more situations you use it, whether that's on a watch, or an Android phone, or an iOS device, or maybe even Google period com.
Google is almost certainly putting the finishing touches on the first smartwatch you'll actually want, yes, but make no mistakes -- this isn't the smartwatch that will make smartwatches a thing. That's a very different mountain to climb.
But what Google's got cooking could show that a smartwatch can have value beyond its most basic job of showing you snippets of text and email. And while snippets are alluring enough for us info junkies, it's a tiny niche. Google Now is going to provide the way out. It's bridge from super nerds to just regular tech people.
We've already seen the a few major hardware companies like Samsung and Sony try to kick off this whole smartwatch thing a few times, to no avail. But between Google Now and some hardware in its back pocket, Google's got both the ingredients it needs to make a smartwatch that makes smartwatches make sense. That's something that would even make Dick Tracy jealous.