Wearable Products in 2014

While Pebble arguably resurrected the wearables market in 2013, the biggest year yet was 2014. Many products (and several whole platforms) became consumer available. Many of these devices bring new innovations to the table to expand wearables from simple pedometers to full blown smartphones on your wrist and comprehensive health trackers. It is impractical to do a full review of each launch in the past year, so here are some wearable product highlights from 2014 to lay the foundation for future device reviews in 2015.

Android Wear

Arguably the biggest wearable launch this year was its very first platform OS. Android Wear aims to be the Windows of the smart watch market, enabling device makers to create devices without significant software investment by loading Android Wear. This strategy clearly worked well for Microsoft with PCs and Google with smartphones.

Android Wear is a wearable tailored version of the base Android OS, not a new creation. This provides immediate benefits as device makers can bring up wearable hardware with all the knowledge gained from previous smartphone efforts. As Android (without heavy modification) is not an embedded microcontroller OS, Android Wear devices rely on full featured application processors such as the Cortex-A or MIPS variety, not Cortex-M. Android app developers can create and deploy Android Wear apps using nearly all of the same APIs from traditional Android development. Differences between traditional Android and Android Wear are detailed in the development assistance provided by Google.

Currently, the foundation of Android Wear is not running apps. Rather, it is pairing with an Android 4.3+ device and providing Google Now features. Activating your Android Wear device provides the same list of cards on your wrist that are available in the Google Now page of your Android phone, and they are acted upon and dismissed in a similar way. How much you like Android Wear comes down to how much you like Google Now. “OK Google” voice activated assistance is always on when the device is not sleeping, and bringing a device out of sleep is done via motion detection. Moving and twisting your arm from any position to the position needed to view the watch face activates an Android Wear device. If the device is already in this position and has gone to sleep, you can tap or press a button to wake the device.

Because the majority of functionality is provided by Google Now and the rest by loading apps, each Android Wear device launched provides a nearly identical experience. Thus, purchasing decisions between Android Wear devices fall entirely into the hardware camp. This is not something to be quickly disregarded or dismissed, as the selection of wrist hardware is a very personal choice. A watch’s band material, size, and styling can make or break a device.

For example, the Moto360 I have been using is entirely black with a black leather band. To be honest, I do not like the styling as I think it looks childish. The leather band also absorbs water which limits how I use the device. However, surveying my friends and family, many of them do like the all black and leather styling. To address this, Motorola sells many style variants. Personally, I would purchase the light shade stainless steel and wear that Moto360 a lot more.

Six Android Wear devices have launched and are available via the Google Play Store and some other retailers.

LG G Watch, Moto 360, ASUS ZenWatch

Samsung Gear Live, Sony SmartWatch 3, LG G Watch R

Android Wear launched focused on smart watch features alone. However, in an October update, Google added support for heart rate monitoring, Sensor Fusion / GPS, and music storage and playback via Bluetooth Audio. This provides the framework for the moving (running, cycling, etc.) use case, but Google relies on app support for moving software. In my personal experience, running app support is rough around the edges. For example, the premier running app highlighted by Google (Runtastic) does not support the heart rate monitor nor does it work disconnected from your phone, mostly defeating the experience.

New hardware has also launched since Android Wear’s introduction. The Sony SmartWatch 3 launched in October alongside the new GPS support. Additionally, there have been several OS updates including a Lollipop update landing on my Moto360 very recently (ironically before my Galaxy S4 has Lollipop).

This is possibly the strongest aspect of Android Wear. It is a full blown smartphone OS offering 3rd party app support, continually developed and improved by a company (Google) that is not the hardware vendor. Updates are frequent and quickly deployed. Google is building a foundation of software and hardware to foster an ecosystem. Right now it is far from perfect, but the good news is that if you buy an Android Wear device today, that device will likely be become significantly different and better over time via software and apps updates.


While Samsung is traditionally thought of as a huge Android smartphone vendor, Samsung diverges from Google when it comes to wearables with some interesting results. When Samsung was developing their first wearable, the Galaxy Gear, in 2012 and releasing it in 2013, Android Wear did not exist. Rather than wait for Google (as Samsung did when Google was rushing to release Android 3.0 for tablets to catch up to Apple and the iPad), Samsung went ahead and forked Android themselves. We reviewed the Galaxy Gear shortly after its launch.

This is important history, as it explains the state of things today and throughout 2014. As Samsung did not wait for Android Wear, their first device contained features Samsung defined, such as camera and IR support, without collaborating with Google. Thus, Samsung wearables were in an interesting position of being off-platform from Google and thus not benefiting from Google’s ecosystem efforts, while also containing features and innovations that could not be folded into Android Wear. For example, if Samsung updated the software on the Galaxy Gear to Android Wear, the camera would stop working.

This is both a good and bad position. Samsung has now transitioned most of their smart watches to their own operating system, Tizen, so they can innovate without needing to coordinate with Google. However, apps designed for Android Wear of course cannot run on Samsung’s Tizen smart watches. Thus, Samsung is currently in its own category. Samsung and Google are now in a race to see who can build an ecosystem faster.

If Samsung can win, they do not have motivation to transition to Android Wear. If Google wins and adds in features that Samsung’s smart watch build of Tizen has, then Samsung should likely migrate their devices over to Android Wear. This will be an interesting power struggle to observe in 2015. It should also be noted that Samsung does make one Android Wear device, the Samsung Gear Live, likely to hedge its bets.

Samsung’s devices and OSes are listed below in the order they were released:

  • Samsung Galaxy Gear – released as custom Samsung Android fork; upgradeable to Tizen
  • Samsung Gear 2 – Tizen
  • Samsung Gear 2 Neo – Tizen
  • Samsung Gear Fit – Low level embedded OS (Cortex-M4 CPU)
  • Samsung Gear Live – Android Wear
  • Samsung Gear S – Tizen

Every device other than the Gear Fit are smart watches. The Fit instead focuses mainly on fitness but also has some smart watch functionality. Technically the category is “Fitness Wristband”. In fact, the Gear Fit hardware is similar to the Microsoft Band that we will cover later.

In 2014 Samsung launched a very interesting device, the Gear S. This is effectively a smartphone on your wrist, as it is the first wrist worn wearable to include cellular (3G) and WiFi. It even has a SIM card slot. This is a clear example of where Samsung has diverged from Android Wear features. It also contains a unique curved Super AMOLED display. These curved displays have dubious value in a smartphone but are more obviously useful on a wrist worn device.

With cellular connectivity, the Gear S sits alone as the only wearable you can wear without a connected smartphone on a cycling, canoeing, or running trip yet still make an emergency call or sync up with friends. Samsung also collaborated with Nike to bring the very popular and feature rich Nike+Running app to their Tizen based smart watches. Therefore, from a checkbox perspective, the Gear S might be the most interesting fitness and smart watch wearable launched in 2014. However, a full review is needed to ascertain how well Samsung executed on the entire experience.

Wearable Use Cases Wearable Products in 2014: Microsoft, Apple & Others
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  • phoenix_rizzen - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I wear a watch on a daily basis, and actually feel kind of naked without it. In fact, I almost can't tell time when I forget my watch, even though I have a phone in my pocket or hand at all times ... I still look at my wrist first and usually just go "ah crap" without checking my phone.

    I wear my watch on the bottom of my wrist (military style, or European style, or upside down, whatever you want to call it), which makes it very convenient to check the time while driving, or walking, or while holding things (like books). Much more convenient than trying to find my phone, or to stare down at the centre console in the car or to find a clock somewhere.

    Now, that being said, I don't see a purpose to most of the smartwatches and fitness bands out there. I tend to not move my arms while walking, usually because they're holding my phone or a book, so I don't have much faith in "step counters" that don't attach to the parts that are "stepping". Most are also calibrated for the top of the wrist when it comes to heart rate monitoring, and I've yet to see a review that tested them on the bottom of the wrist. I also turn down my notifications (actually turn off cell/wifi radios via JuiceDefender) on the phone to only check every 30 minutes so not taking my phone out every 30 seconds isn't an issue.
  • name99 - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    "My one thought running through every page is who still wears a watch?"

    WOW. That is an original observation. I have never once, in the past three years, heard anyone make this claim before...

    So you don't want to wear a watch? Fine, the party will move on without you and you won't be missed.
    But what exactly do you expect an article on WEARABLES to talk about when the only damn wearable form factor that has any traction today is the watch/band? We're discussing here the wearables that one can buy today or, at least, in the next three months, not fantasies of what may be available in five years.
  • III-V - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I wear one as a fashion accessory. Or I did, prior to the battery dying and the watch back needing enough pressure to compress graphite into a diamond to be put back on. Contrary to popular belief, how you look does matter.
  • JohnnyBoBells - Friday, January 16, 2015 - link

    Lots of people. We may not use it to tell time, but it is a great fashion accessory, especially for men, who are typically limited (albeit, by social standards, but that's a separate issue) in their options for wearable accessories. I've used my collection of watches as a great conversation starter (it's usually them who initiate, too!) with the numerous women I've bedded. A nice watch can complete that look along with a greatly tailored suit. So again, while maybe not used as often these days for its original intended purpose, watches are still worn by many people.
  • aggiechase37 - Monday, January 19, 2015 - link

    With the numerous women you've bedded? Remind me of the country song, so much cooler online.
  • marvdmartian - Friday, January 16, 2015 - link

    I've worn a watch since I was ~7 years old, and still do to this day. But being toward the end of the "baby boomer" generations, it's probably much more prevalent in mine, than in following generations.

    Phones/smartphones are okay for some functions, but I still find it much easier to just glance at my wrist to tell the time, than to pull out the phone. After 4+ decades of wearing a watch, it's unlikely I'd go without one, as it wouldn't feel natural.
  • eldakka - Thursday, January 22, 2015 - link

    I stoped wearing watches because there was no need to wear a timekeeping/alarm device when the phone could do all this better and have many more functions. Now I feel naked without my smartwatch (like I used to feel before when I forgot my watch prior to smartphones) because with the watch I have the convienience of not having to retrieve a phone from my pockert to tell the time. I also no longer have to get the phone out to see whos calling to see if I care enough to fish it out to answer. I can see whis sent me aa sms and read the sms, and even send back pre-canned replies (useful for common replies such as "otw", "5 minutes out", "yes yes I wont forget to get it ") without getting out the phone.

    And im less likely to miss a call/sms/alarm/reminder with the wrist vibration (get your mind out of the gutter, yes I mean you!) when in noisy environments such as night clubs, train stations etc.
  • Dribble - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    Your use cases aren't great, you either have:
    a) fitness fanatics who love technology. I know plenty of people who stay fit and none of them need some device to tell them how they are doing. They kind of know as they live in the body in question. It's a market but its not very big.
    b) people who can't be bothered taking their smart phone out of their pocket, which is all those watches enable - a short cut to see something your smart phone could show you.

    The watch case make a little sense, if the watch was cheap enough (i.e. very cheap), but the whole point of wearables from a manufacturers point of view is their are something new that they can completely overcharge for.

    The only one that really makes sense is google glass, but everyone has gone all 17 century on that and decided it's the work of the devil and all users need to be burned.
  • Penti - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    Obviously it would have to be a fashion accessory as once the watch was (and still is for some) to make sense spending millions into developing and marketing these devices. I wouldn't really use one if it doesn't have a semi-independent system running it's own apps, having it's own gps-receiver and so on. Though I have no use of having a cellular modem/radio in every device. Plus I don't wear jewelry so I don't see point of spending hundreds of dollars on one.

    For working out you don't really need to spend money, sure I was into mountain biking once but you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on a cycle computer, you didn't need to about 20 years ago. Most people don't really need to collect those stats any way like these devices enable. Some other gear might cost you quite a lot though. But no need to really spend it on accessories. If you want to monitor your heart rate you don't need to spend more than a tens of dollars. If you want gps there is still a lot cheaper devices then say fitbit. Giving value to these devices will get tougher. Though I do see why companies like TomTom want to be in the game.
  • Stephen Barrett - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    Sure you dont need to do it but it does have benefits. For example Strava has an excellent fatigue graph it collects over time. Before a big race, you can adjust your prep accordingly to reduce your fatigue.

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