Yes, we all know Apple sold more watches in one day than Android Wear sold in an entire year. And yes, Tim Cook will probably display that stat in huge, sans-serif letters during his next keynote presentation. But no, you shouldn’t feel bad for Larry Page and Sergey Brin. As a matter of fact, you should be applauding them. Why? Because this was all part of their plan.
Android incepted Apple
Android may have the lion’s share of the global (and U.S.) smartphone market, but there’s no denying that Apple is the king of influencing public perception. As Google learned with Glass, a product segment is not legitimate until Apple says it is. David Pierce highlights this in his beautifully designed Wired article, “iPhone Killer: The Secret History of the Apple watch:”
There were MP3 players before the iPod, but Apple made you want one. The iPhone transformed the smartphone from business gear into pop culture. The iPad brought tablets in from the fringes, blowing past years of work by the likes of Nokia and Microsoft. For its fourth act, Apple chose a watch.
iWatch rumors had been floating around Silicon Valley since the turn of the decade, so why is Apple just now entering the smartwatch market? They needed someone to test the waters first, and Google was happy to oblige.
Android Wear v1 was perfectly flawed
In poker, there are two basic forms of bluffing. First, you can try to make your opponent believe you have much better cards than you actually do (a.k.a., the Apple method). Or you can downplay your hand, and let your opponent raise the stakes until you’re ready to flip over your cards and collect your winnings. The latter is what Google did with Android Wear v1.
Sure, it was buggy, lacking native apps, and the hardware was as disjointed you’d expect from an Android ecosystem, but Android Wear v1 was good enough to make the tech industry take notice. Almost as soon as the first Android Wear watches were released, the media would not stop asking, “Where’s the iWatch?”
Apple was pressured into prematurely entering the market with little to go off of, aside from Android Wear’s purposely imperfect OS. All the while, Wear v2 was in the works.
It was hard to say how the Apple Watch worked back when we were blinded by the A-list celebrities who were wearing them, but now that us normal folk have access, we see that Apple Watch and the best Android Wear devices are pretty similar. As Darren Orf pointed out in his astute Gizmodo article, “How the Apple Watch Compares to its Biggest Competition:”
[…] where the iPod and the iPhone were stupid better than what we had at the time, the Apple Watch is neck and neck with the other smartwatches and wearables on the market.
Orf goes on to prophesize that any advantages the Apple Watch currently enjoys will likely be null and void once the second generation of Android Wear devices begin hitting wrists. Take the LG Watch Urbane, for example. Not only will LG’s newest watch offer a circular face and a leather strap with stitches (Apple fail), it will also ship with “Android Wear’s biggest update ever,” according to The Verge.
In short, the new OS will offer a better way to send emojis, a better gesture system, a better low-power mode, and the same Wi-Fi connectivity as the Apple Watch. Apple could obviously level the software playing field with a simple system-wide update, but what it can’t fix so quickly is its lack of hardware variety.
Let’s take a step outside of Silicon Valley and head to the runway for a second. On the Apple catwalk, every model is wearing the same outfit, but with slight color variations. In the Android tent, no two models are dressed alike. Every time someone vanishes behind the curtain, it’s anyone’s guess what will emerge next. Which show would you rather attend?
Apple may manufacture the most fashionable computers, smartphones, and tablets on the market, but that’s only because they’re competing in an industry where most employees wear jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers to work everyday. In the tech sector, appearance is an afterthought and products get replaced every one to two years. In fashion, appearance is everything, and trends can change in a matter of days.
To make it in this fickle industry, you have to offer variety, both in appearance and price. Although the Apple Watch ranges from $350 to $17,000, every model looks essentially the same. Android Wear devices come in all shapes, sizes, and prices, with even more makes and models on the way.
As an Android user and owner of five different dumbwatches, I could easily see myself buying several different Android Wear devices to alternate with my outfits. I would never do that if I owned an iPhone, unless Apple actually approves Android Wear for iOS.
Keep watching the Android Wear vs Apple Watch showdown
Assuming Apple works its magic and makes everyone in the world believe they need a smartwatch, Google will use its variety, pricing, and open collaboration with hardware manufacturers to steal the majority of the market — just like the company did with smartphones. Only time will tell how the smartwatch industry shakes out, but I really hope it stays afloat long enough for me to afford whatever Google, Intel, and TAG Heuer have up their sleeves.