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Google’s take on smartwatches has finally arrived in the form of the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live. Neither of these devices are going to set the world on fire, but they show off what might be the best wearable platform yet. Although, that’s not necessarily something to brag about. If Android Wear succeeds, it will be on the strength of the apps developers come up with.
The Android Wear SDK has only been official for a few weeks, but already there’s some awesome stuff being made exclusively for Wear. Google is only promoting established apps on its Wear app page, but indie developers are already doing great things. These apps might make a smartwatch something you actually want.
Twitter is on everything these days — I’m pretty sure you can get a refrigerator that tweets. So why not a watch? Bunting is a Twitter client that lets you compose a tweet by voice (hashtags included). This part of it works pretty well, and there’s preliminary support for paging through your timeline, too. This part is a little more buggy, but still kind of neat. This is a free app.
Android Wear watches, like most modern wearable accessories, pair with the phone over Bluetooth. A happy side effect of Bluetooth’s limited range (roughly 20-30 feet) is that a broken connection probably means you’ve just forgotten your phone.Wear Aware makes sure you don’t do that by alerting you with a vibration pattern when the Bluetooth connection is lost. Not enough? You can also activate Wear Aware on the watch to make your phone ring so you can find it in the couch cushions. This app is free, too.
This is an app that makes life a little less annoying for all the new parents out there. Android Wear is designed to be a fully touch interface that utilizes simple gestures. Imagine you’re holding an infant — what are they going to go for? Yeah, the glowing smartwatch strapped to your wrist. Rather than let your offspring swipe away all your cards, just use Baby Time to lock the watch. The Baby Time lock screen has a clock and instructions to unlock: swipe up twice, then down twice. Do it right, and you’re welcomed as an adult human. Just start it from the app list or by voice. Again, this is a completely free app.
Your smartphone has volume toggles on it, but it’s not always convenient to pull it out of your pocket. Wear Volume is a simple app that controls your phone’s media volume from the watch. Just start the app from the list of by voice, and use the on-screen buttons to set the volume. One screen, two buttons — that’s literally the entire app, but it works. It’s great for using at the gym or any other situation where reaching into a pocket isn’t convenient. Yep, this one is free as well.
Android has a long, proud tradition of widgets, but they’re not available on Android Wear. Well, not officially at least. Wearable Widgets lets you beam widgets from your phone directly to your watch. This will make more sense for some widgets than others, but you could drop a system info widget on your watch to keep tabs on your phone’s battery without waking up the screen, or keep your favorite calendar widget handy on the wearable display. Wearable Widgets stays in your card list and can display multiple widgets of your choosing in swipeable panels, but you’ll need the $1.99 in-app pro upgrade if you want to do more than one widget at a time.
The Android Wear devices we have now (and will have for the foreseeable future) have regular transmissive LCD and AMOLED displays like smartphones. That means they don’t perform especially well in direct sunlight, but they’re readable at the highest brightness setting. The problem, however, is that getting into the settings requires multiple taps and swipes — not convenient at all each time you go outside. WearBright fixes that by toggling full brightness on Android Wear. Simply activate by voice or open from the app list and you instantly get full brightness. Activate it again to go back to the previous setting. Yep, this is free too.
Android Wear is far from perfect, but these apps bring it that much closer to viability. Google has a shot at making wearables work, but developers will do the heavy lifting.