With KitKat, is Android Ready to Move Into the Wearables Market?

Wearable technology is tipped to be the next big thing and so naturally Google, who never likes to lack in the innovation department, is seemingly getting ready to enter the incredibly young market head-first using Android.

Android’s version 4.4, KitKat, was just recently announced and the long list of under-the-hood internals are sure to please Android users everywhere. But amongst this long list of enhancements, certain features stand out to me for the reason that they are the exact type of improvements or additions that a wearable device needs, and would benefit greatly from. This is what leads me to believe that in the coming months we will see Google disrupting the wearable market like no other company can. But what will we see from them? I’ve done my best to decrypt the hints left in Android KitKat to find out!

Low-Spec Devices

One of the great things about Android is that it runs on a host of devices, ranging from the incredibly powerful to the cheap and cheerful. Of course, it’s to be expected that if somebody buys a cheap Android phone,  they shouldn’t expect the performance of a flagship, but this is poised to change with KitKat. Google is implementing many minor changes that make Android a “svelte” and more manageable OS capable of running on lower-end devices.

Examples of low-end Android devices.

Examples of low-end Android devices.

You may be asking, “but why does this affect wearables?” Well, when the first batch of wearable technology hits the market, it is to be expected that the gadgets won’t be jam-packed with 8GBs of RAM and quad-core processors, but instead with components that allow them to be marketed at an affordable price. That constraint would normally imply a compromise in the performance department, but not with KitKat. Take a smartwatch for example; no person would ever consider their smartwatch a competent gaming device, nor would somebody think that they could be watching full HD videos on it and so having these resource-intensive uses taken out of the equation allows for cheaper, and less high-end internals without compromising on the base software.

New NFC Capabilities

NFC (which stand for Near Field Communication) is one of those awesome technologies that is just starting to become mainstream. Many of today’s mid-to-high-end Android devices have NFC built-in as standard, and so when Android makes its debut on wearables I’m sure we can expect NFC to be one of coolest features on offer.

Google's great Wallet app paired with NFC could make any wearable ten times more useful.

Google’s great Wallet app paired with NFC could make any wearable ten times more useful.

Take this scenario for example; you are in the queue for the train in the morning and rather than having to search your pockets for the correct change you can just gently tap your smartwatch on a surface and voila, the money is debited from your account. NFC paired with Google’s own Wallet app could prove to be a match made in heaven, but the success of NFC also depends on whether or not merchants adapt the technology.

Support for More Sensors

Another massive trend in the industry has been wearable fitness trackers, such as Fitbit and Jawbone. These devices basically sit on your body all day (the location of the device varies from model to model) and track your steps, sleep and calories burned. The reason that they have taken off is because of how little effort is needed to use them — just strap them on and you’re good to go.

The Fitbit Force: one of the most popular fitness trackers currently on the market.

The Fitbit Force: one of the most popular fitness trackers currently on the market.

KitKat brings with it a host of new compatible sensors, ranging from pedometers which track your every step to step detectors, which tell the device when you are and aren’t moving. If these sensors were to be fully taken advantage of in an Android wearable, competing vendors of wearable fitness trackers could find themselves in a lot of trouble very fast.

Also new to Android is native support for IR blasters. Despite their incredibly cool name, IR blasters do little but transmit infrared signals to a predetermined receiver. IR blasters have seen spotty adoption by phone manufacturers at best, but their inclusion in the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Note 3, and LG G2 certainly made the case that there is a market for this technology, and so Google obviously listened. The main advantage of this being included is that Android can now be used to control IR appliances — your TV, for example. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am definitely looking forward to the day that I no longer have to turn the house upside down when the TV remote goes missing but instead just have to tap a gadget on my wrist!

Full Screen Apps

Android phones in particular are spoiled with regards to screen space. Devices such as the Galaxy Note line have made a huge impact on the market, quenching the thirst of users who desperately wanted more screen estate. But if Android was to be properly adapted into a wearable, an obvious sacrifice would have to be done with the screen space because lets face it, who wants to wear a 4 inch screen on their wrist?

Games commonly take advantage of full screen.

Games commonly take advantage of full screen.

Thankfully, KitKat now has in-built support for fullscreen apps. This means that regular apps will now natively be able to do away with the onscreen buttons (if available) and the status bar. Maximising screen estate is going to be an incredibly paramount point to devices such as Google Glass and so I definitely expect developers to take full advantage of this new feature.

Improved Battery Life

Android’s battery life has never been dire, but then again neither has it been exemplary. Google wants to make batteries as efficient as possible with the release of KitKat and so has included several tweaks that are sure to have you reaching for that charger a little less frequently.

The main advantage of this on a wearable is obvious: less time spent charging compared to being worn. It’s fine to charge your phone overnight when you’re sleeping as it serves no purpose but if your smartwatch running Android is set to track your sleep, it won’t do a very good job at it if it’s across the room getting a juice boost. This improvement will have a positive effect on smartphones too of course, but if Android ever wants to gain footing in the wearable market, consumers must first be comfortable with the fact that their device can go a few days — if not weeks — without a charge.

Conclusion

With the wearable technology and quantified self market showing no signs of fading, I believe that it’s only a matter of time before we see Android popping up on our smartwatches, fitness trackers, eyeglasses and other types of gadgets. With KitKat, Google has put to rest some of my biggest concerns about running Android on a wearable, taking a prospect that was previously laughable and turning it into an interesting and feasible opportunity that even seems to be a step up from what we currently have on the market.

The future of Android and wearable technology is definitely looking bright, and perhaps in a year or two, you’ll be getting your AppStorm fix from your wrist or your glasses, instead of being glued to your phone or computer screen!