Mobility

Why Google Assistant could help make Android wearables more business-friendly

Google has announced the expansion of Assistant Actions to Wear OS devices, which could turn them into productivity powerhouses.


Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Google has released three major changes to Wear OS, adding contextual smart responses, Google Assistant voice feedback, and Assistant Actions to its smartwatch platform.
  • While it may not cut into Apple's smartwatch lead, Google's addition of smartphone-like features to its watches could further shrink the smartwatch market share of third-party products like Fitbit, which can't boast the same level of integration.

Google is ramping up changes to Wear OS, its smartwatch platform, ahead of Google I/O 2018.

The latest changes to Wear OS are designed around improving its Google Assistant experience, adding spoken responses, smart suggestions, and access to over one million Assistant Actions to Android watches.

Apple has been the leader in smartwatch sales for quite some time, but this latest change could make Android wearables competitive, especially for productivity-focused users.

Spoken responses and smart suggestions

Like Siri on the Apple Watch, Google Assistant can be called up by pressing a button or speaking the right command to a Wear OS device. You can ask it for the weather, to bring up your daily calendar, and perform other organizational tasks.

With the latest changes to Wear OS, Google has added two features to make using your watch as an organizational tool easier and more precise.

Smart suggestions will generate options to narrow a query, with Google using the example of asking Wear OS about the weather. When a user asks about the weather, the current temperature and conditions appear on the screen—nothing is new there. What is new are suggestions available with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen: An evening forecast, weekend weather, and other recommendations appear as tappable buttons.

Suggestions are available for various interactions and functions, similar to Google Assistant suggestions on Android smartphones. Google said it designed smart suggestions for quick interactions on the go, which can be great if you don't want to have an extended conversation with your wrist in public.

The second productivity feature Google added to Wear OS is spoken responses, which can be a huge boon for busy people. Instead of displaying text for certain interactions on the screen, Assistant will now speak out loud via a watch's internal speaker or connected Bluetooth device.

Hearing a rundown of your daily calendar, commute times, or other important information is now just a voice command away.

Google Actions: The biggest addition

One of the things that sets Google Assistant apart from Amazon Alexa is how it handles Actions (called Skills on Alexa). In Alexa's case, users have to add individual Skills in order to use them—Alexa is a blank slate with limited abilities unless you give them to it.

Google Assistant, on the other hand, has access to the over one million Actions available to it all by default, which is why you won't find a Google Assistant Actions store—a new installation of Google Assistant can use whatever Actions developers have dreamed up.

SEE: Research: Defenses, response plans, and greatest concerns about cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (Tech Pro Research)

This latest version of Wear OS has taken Assistant Actions and extended them to Wear OS, which makes Android watches productivity and IoT powerhouses. If you use a particular Action on your Android device or Google Home, you no longer need to go to one of those devices to find it—you can do so right from your wrist.

Adding Actions to Wear OS could be huge for Android's lagging smartwatch market. Whether or not it will convince users of other smartwatch platforms to jump ship is questionable.

It probably won't put a dent in the Apple Watch's market share—those who rely on Apple's integrated ecosystem won't gain anything from using a Wear OS watch. What it could do is eat further into the market of Fitbit and other third-party smartwatch manufacturers, especially for business users.

Google is making Wear OS smartwatches a more integrated part of its ecosystem with the inclusion of Android-like features. By shrinking the gap between smartphone and smartwatch, Google is giving Android users less reason to stick with a non-Android powered watch. That's great news for Google ecosystem users, but bad news for the competition.

Also see

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Image: Google

About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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