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
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • codylee - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I'm most excited about wearables moving past smartphones. I love the idea of Google Glass mixed with Erghis Sphere or Leap Motion style hand detection to interact rather than a brick like a smartphone. Then a watch style wearable may hold the compute power while the optics provide the GUI. I'd love to see these run on movement based energy though- or at the least body heat!
  • codylee - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    Www.spaceglasses.com - completes the above lol
  • Drumsticks - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    Nice article - i find it aligns with my own thoughts pretty well. I jumped onto the fitbit line with the Charge HR, and I think I'll pick up a moto 360 successor when it is out.

    Battery life obviously. I think the most important aspect of a wearable's display might be readability in light - you might be least likely to have your phone out when you're outside walking around. Watches also endure to some level more wear via hitting things i.e. Walls, desks, etc, so maybe some kind of scratchability test, if that doesn't violate any terms with the company or something.

    Thanks for the article!
  • Baba G. Noush - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    Water resistant to 50m is not "incredible", it's just adequate. The two "real" watches I use are rated to 200m; I have routinely found that 50m-rated watches will not stand repeated dunks in a pool to no more than 2m. And as a use case, consider swimming, where I would like to count both strokes and laps, each of which should have a different signature on the accelerometer. There are devices that are useful for pacing (like a metronome for strokes) but they are all standalone and "dumb", they don't interface to anything.
  • tipoo - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I would have been interested in the Fitbit Surge, but man, did they miss the ball with the price point. It's the same price as the Moto 360 and more expensive than several other smartwatches, and "only" 100 dollars less than the base Apple Watch. At that price, it's just not feature competitive with them. It doesn't do enough yet, it's just like a Charge HR except with GPS and the ability to put in what you're doing right on the watch instead of on a seperate device later. I don't think that's worth the markup. But it certainly would be interesting at a lower price.
  • Sxotty - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I can say what I want. I want something to track runs, rides etc so I can leave phone at home. I want bumpers to protect screen and I would like to think about e-ink screen. I won't be watching movies on it. The microsoft band is close in many ways to what I want but the screen could be smaller and durability is an issue. Also I hear it cannot track rides.

    Anyway test durability, battery life, GPS, heart rate function then all the other junk.
  • Sxotty - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I should also mention that I want control over my data. I don't want to pay a third party to download my data. I want the device to work with my device. Android, iPhone, or Windows phone.
  • junky77 - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I would like to have some emphasis on the extendability of the machine - maybe it's not specific to a specific model, but it's interesting. You'd like to know what's behind the borders of the wearable itself
  • Zizy - Friday, January 16, 2015 - link

    Out of all devices, I would love MS Band that is waterproof (not just splash resistant) and able to count laps in the pool. If it also survives 10m dives and measures depth, even better. Garmin has stuff I like (except too bulky), but not for the price I am willing to pay :)
    Samsung thingy that allows you to even make phone calls is also interesting, although I have a phone for that, I don't need another one on my wrist (yet; several versions later I might even buy it).

    As for review, well battery life is obviously the big one. But most important part should be - why would you want that device? Focus on the purpose of the device and review from that perspective. Android wear devices all serve the same "phone companion" purpose, but not all other devices do, at least not to the same extent. And please, if you are a bunch of couch potatoes that will never be caught doing any other exercise than the naked one, don't review fitness devices :)
  • mkozakewich - Friday, January 16, 2015 - link

    It might be time to finally create a standardized test for reflectance. Can you rig up a light box with a specific light output and a camera port at a certain distance and angle, so you can measure the contrast between white and black on the screen at 200 nits?

    The screen quality is actually desperately important. Half the reason people wear watches is for the delight of it. The screen on a wearable has to have that 'real' look or it just ruins the whole design.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now