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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  • mkozakewich - Friday, January 16, 2015 - link

    Ooh, and make sure to call out the density of the display. There's no reason to be using 100dpi screens, for example.
  • wyx087 - Friday, January 16, 2015 - link

    Cost is always something that gets mentioned. I don't get it. Watch is a jewelry in addition to time teller. To buy a good classic watch, you will need to spend £100/$100 to thousands. As an adult, why would you want to be seen wearing a plastic G-shock watch?

    I used to wear a selection of Swiss watches. But I long for phone notifications on my wrist. While Pebble Steel was far from perfect in terms of style, it's the closest thing you can get to a watch replacement:
    - Always-on display
    - Basic handling of notifications
    - View calendar and reminders
    - Days up to a week of battery-life

    What is ideal is a round smartwatch with thin edges for the always-on e-ink display. Moto 360 was very tempting for its styling, but the battery life and display shows it's not a watch replacement. In fact, a Swiss styled mechanical watch with notification display in the background would be the perfect classic watch replacement. It'll last weeks because there's no silly sensors.

    So while your use-cases are good. But I think a 4th can be added (or the smartwatch use-case can be adopted): Watch replacement. A smartwatch doesn't need to have that killer app, just saving the few seconds of bringing up a phone is more than enough. To replace a jewelry the device needs to be a jewelry, the electronics inside isn't as important.
  • Arbie - Friday, January 16, 2015 - link

    Great article! Thoughtful, well-presented in depth, and relevant. Lets have more of this caliber.

  • ithehappy - Friday, January 16, 2015 - link

    The only one I like here is the Gear Fit. But then again its fully compatible with Samsung phones only, which is a shame.
    I am looking forward for the Lenovo e-Ink one which will come out at March.

    PS: I am a regular watch wearer by the way, automatics, so no, I am not nearly crazy enough to replace my watch with these toys, I just need one to have notifications on my wrist.
  • HisDivineOrder - Friday, January 16, 2015 - link

    Far from the fargone conclusion, I find the Apple Watch and other wearables to be answering a problem no one had with a solution the majority have rejected in prior decades. People don't wear watches. They don't like being reminded by this thing strapped to your wrist of the finite amount of time they have, so why would they want to wear a watch?

    I think for wearables to work, they must follow in the way of smartphones and improve something that people already do. Tablets worked because they essentially cribbed off smartphones, but made it bigger and said, "You know you how you used to read a book? Now you can read a tablet."

    That's it.

    When you look at watches, it's like the argument is they want phones to be so large you don't want to get them out, which seems like they're just undermining phones to make watches more relevant.

    And people already didn't want to wear watches. So they'll just keep buying smaller phones instead. I think something like Google Glass or even just a pair of sunglasses with voice recognition and a bluetooth connection to your phone will likely work a LOT better.

    Mostly because who doesn't wear glasses? Either prescription glasses or sunglasses... just about everyone wears glasses of some sort.
  • BuddyRich - Saturday, January 17, 2015 - link

    A round pebble steel with wireless charging (though the magnetic induction is better than a regular cable) and I would be sold.

    Its pricey but I am also interested in the Withings Activite. One of the only companies to take design seriously. Swiss movement mechanical watch that does step tracking, lap swimming, etc. Only thing its missing is some sort of notification light. 8 months battery life. If you don't want the quality you can get the visually identical Activite Pop without swiss movement, sapphire crystal or leather strap. Only thing is, this really is more of a fitness only watch vs. a "smart" watch.

    As for smart watch reviews.... Battery Life test (of different modes), daylight readability, nighttime readability (including tests for backlit devices to test if its too bright say in a movie theatre to be always on). Functionality of course and phone interoperability (ie. all functions available paired with iOS vs. paired with Android and what specific phones - Samsung wearables sometimes only fully support Samsung phones). Pairing issues itself.

    Lots of photos because style is much more important, on a variety of wrists, perhaps showing what it would look like on a female's wrist for comparison to gauge size.

    I am not sure what the use case for a smart watch is, other than to tell time. Im the sort of person who hates using blutooth headset in public (and am annoyed by others that do) so I am not sure I would ever speak to my watch a la dick tracy, but a notification light might be handy, maybe something to pause music or the apple tv when at home, etc.
  • Tams80 - Sunday, January 18, 2015 - link

    The date and day on the Activite appears to be missing. It may seem like a very minor thing, but that is something that makes me hesitant about switching from my current watch. They also don't seem to mention how long the device can function away from a smartphone.

    Using their heart rate and blood oxygen sensors wouldn't be feasible in such a package, but it would be nice if they made a companion device that's sole purpose was to continuously track them.
  • MADPhoenix - Sunday, January 18, 2015 - link

    Good article. One device that seems to be overlooked (and I think it's fine) was the sixth generation iPod nano (the square one). It wasn't directly a watch but they made a band for it so you could wear it like one. Even the lock screen was an analog clock face.
  • aggiechase37 - Monday, January 19, 2015 - link

    Not interested in the goofy watches. Not interested in the glasses because they look silly. Make me some shades that look like shades and we could talk. Until then, I'm all set for my trusty smartphone, my laptop, and my custom built desktop. All this wearable crap seems like a desperate play for growth by these big companies when there really isn't demand for something like that.

    I don't know a single person who thinks they need a smartwatch. By contrast, when smartphones were first taking off everyone was talking about how they wanted it. On a smartwatch's best day, the reaction is, "neat, but I'll pass."

    I do however think there could be a market for the glasses, but not until they don't look like something the doc from Back to the Future would wear. Until then, I'm out.
  • eric678 - Monday, January 19, 2015 - link

    You left out mybasis peak - my current wearable. I like it - mostly a basic watch that tracks everything I want to, but has HR and a good app/web dashboard to analyze.

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