Feature Request is a new regular 9to5Google series where authors offer their opinion on how to improve popular hardware or software products.
I think most of us who have used it are aware that Android Wear isn’t exactly a complete platform yet. It feels a little beta-ish. And that’s okay for now. One of the best things about Google’s software efforts is that we get to go along for the ride as it publicly experiments and launches new features. It’s not a case of waiting for months, or years, for it to secretly ‘perfect’ its product before telling us we’re ready for it.
Android Wear is still young enough that there’s plenty Google could change without upsetting the apple cart too much. One feature I think should be implemented soon (this year if possible) is a Force Touch-like technology. In other words: Android Wear should have a deeply engrained system to take advantage of pressure-sensitive touchscreen displays…
A lot of what’s wrong with Android Wear is that its software layers are a little janky, to say the least. Getting in to many parts of the UI means a fiddly process. Either swiping down from the top, long-pressing the screen or long-pressing the physical crown. A lot of the time, it doesn’t respond as you want, when you want. With a pressure sensitive screen, Google could either replace a lot of the current gestures and/or build in a totally new layer of shortcuts and options.
One of the big issues I find with the long press is that it seemingly isn’t consistent, at least not on the watches I’ve tried. I could accidentally set it off, and change my watch face without even meaning to. Either that, or my youngest daughter does it for me. Which I always appreciate.
While a hard press on a pressure sensitive screen might not be 100% fool-proof, it would certainly be a lot less likely to be accidentally triggered than a long-press on a regular touchscreen.
Presuming that all touch screens in the near future will have the hardware capability to detect microscopic levels of pressure (which is a whole other feature request), the biggest part of this feature request is software and firmware based. Which actions and layers of the smartwatch interface should be prioritized in assigning deep-push level commands?
A couple of options immediately spring to mind. Chiefly, I think notifications need a lot of work. Currently, having an endless sea of cards that need swiping up or across the screen, quickly becomes tedious. It would be great if there was a simple way to list all, and dismiss all notifications from the watch. A hard press transitions a single notification in to a list of all of them, and another hard press dismisses them. Simple.
Secondly, and I think most important, would be implementing bespoke actions depending on specific watch faces. This would be down mostly to third party developers. For instance, a fitness-themed watch face which started a stopwatch immediately on a hard press, or even an app like Strava automatically starting to track a running or biking session as soon as you hard-press it.
But then, we know there’s the option for a soft-press as well as a hard-press. Apple’s iOS, as an example, gives you ‘peek’ and ‘pop’ options for its iPhone apps. With Android Wear, a softer press could give you a quick glance at your schedule, or the weather, in full screen, rather than relying on tiny onscreen widgets embedded in the watch face.
The options are virtually endless, and depend mostly on what third party developers do with the technology, but Google has to start the process and build the framework for where these developers go. Wherever Google decides to take it, they must build something to give the OS depth. Right now, Android Wear feels like everything is fighting for the same two-dimensional space onscreen, and needs swiping away. Almost like too many pieces of paper vying for attention on the surface of a small desk.
With all the issues that Android Wear has, a baked-in Force Touch-like system of layers for added features and organisation could really help tidy a lot of them up. Using Apple as an example again, I think there’s a reason why the Apple Watch had Force Touch built in right from the very first generation, and wasn’t an afterthought. It’s a key element of the entire experience, and wasn’t an afterthought. Android Wear needs to have it built in, and in a way that similarly feels like a necessary part of its UI.