Two days ago, Motorola announced the Moto 360, its smartwatch powered by Android Wear. Except for the few pictures and the few Android Wear functions that Google and Motorola described in their official blog posts, we do not know much about the exact specifications. We were invited yesterday to a hangout with Jim Wicks, CVP Consumer Experience design at Motorola and we were hoping to learn a little more.
"TIME WAS THE INSPIRATION" Unfortunately, except for the concept and the ideas behind the round shape and the Android Wear interface, he did not share the main information we are all waiting for: no pricing, no exact release date, no battery life, no display type, no processor type no resolution were provided.
We learned a few things though: the round interface is standard in Android Wear, the SDK for a choice of a square or a round interface, the Moto 360 will be compatible with Android 4.3+ devices, it will probably only feature wireless charging or a new type of connector-less charging system, the casing is made of stainless steel with a brushed finish and a gloss finish on the edges and you will be able to see the time constantly.
Last but not least, time was the inspiration for the round shape and since 80% of the traditional watches sold in the world are round (according to Jim Wicks), we predict that Android Wear will power watches made by traditional manufacturers in the future. To learn more details about what Jim Wicks had to say about the Moto 360, read the full article.
1) A unique Smartwatch design: why the round shape?
Time is the inspiration
The inspiration for the Moto 360 is Time itself, and according to Jim Wicks, “when you go back to modern civilisation Time was always represented with a circle (..) from the sun dial, to the pocket watch five hundred years ago, the wristwatch hundred years ago, even now in our digital era, when you go to train stations or airports and it usually represented with that round, circular kind of iconic shape”.
"NOT NEW: 80% OF REGULAR WATCHES SOLD IN THE WORLD ARE ROUND" There are not many round Smartwatches, however, Jim Wicks points out that “80% to 85% of watches that are sold in the world are round watches” so it was merely a design decision not to “swim against the cultural current, let’s actually go with it”. The reasons why people like round watches is “comfort, and people are used to it.”
Iconic and comfortable form factor
So, Jim Wicks and his team decided to design a device that is both “iconic” and “comfortable and approachable to people”.
The round shape makes it more gender neutral
As usual, when it comes to smart watches, the Moto 360 is designed for men, in fact the official product photos show only male wrists… Jim Wicks did a good job at not answering the question directly at the end (minute 17.06) “this smart watch is made for a man will we see one in the future that is more geared toward women?” His answered that Motorola is going “after mass appeal” and “making design decisions around round” and around having “very nice details that make it very approachable to the people”. I assume that “approachable to the people” means approachable for women as well.
And thanks to the detachable band design, he said that the band will fit also very small wrists, which means the majority of women will be able to wear it comfortably.
2) The technical challenges to design a round Smartwatch
The main challenge: trigger the desire to wear the watch
The Motorola design team avoided thinking about technology first, otherwise they would have probably gone for the square display, which seems a better choice to display different types of digital information properly. But according to Jim Wicks, the wearable tech space is not just about “putting a smartphone on your wrist.” Instead, “you need to connect with consumers emotionally”and having them want to wear the device in the first place.
"IT IS ALL ABOUT CAPTURING THE DESIRE OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE TO WEAR AN OBJECT 24/7" This notion is well known among the wearable tech professionals, it is all about capturing the desire of millions of people to wear an object 24/7 on their wrists. This is something that I completely agree with, and that I am advocating, but many people in the Wearable Tech space don’t truly believe it. For example, I am able to wear the Shine smartband for weeks without interruption but I cannot do the same with the Jawbone UP, because the Shine is elegant enough and comfortable enough to be worn either with a sport outfit or a cocktail dress. By the way, the Shine got that “iconic” round shape as well.
So Jim Wicks concludes that making people say “I really would love to be having this on my wrist from morning to night” is the most important challenge for designing a piece of wearable technology.
The technology has to adapt to the humans not the other way around
In fact the Moto 360 team decided to look at “what consumers want” and map it to the technology to avoid trying “make consumers change for this tech”. It is indeed a very promising mission statement, and we can see that the device is really appealing (from the few product shots we have seen so far). However, we will not know for sure until we try the final product.
Beyond the “crazy” idea, reaching for the “wow factor” or how to get a team inspired
When asked by the interviewer if the team thought Jim was crazy when he said they were going to make the new Motorola smartwatch round, he replied that this idea has been around from some times and it was the perfect time to do it.
For technical reasons, square Smartwatches are the norm since the past three / four years, and the differentiation only happens on the small details and the built quality, but according to Jim Wicks “you do not have that wow!” kind of reaction. On the contrary, when the team started to look at the concept of a round smartwatch and started to show it internally “to the engineers, supply chain, marketing, everybody… then you get the wow! response”.
At that point you get the people inspired so, for example, the engineering lead was enthusiastic about the challenge even though his team had to start everything from the ground up to make it work in a round display. As Jim Wicks puts it “once everybody got that conviction and said we’d love it, we know we want to do it, this is going to be the game changer(..) once everybody is inspired I think things start to happen (…) so technical teams embraced it and reinvented a round face and it is going to be cool”.
Conclusion: any technical challenge can be overcome by an inspired team
In the digital world, it is well known that the more simple and seamless a user interface is the more difficult it is to develop, especially when you have to display it in a small round shape. The truth is, you better have an inspired and experienced team to do it.
Additionally, digital round shapes have always been more challenging to integrate because pixels are square and, when it comes to displays, you lose a significant part of the real estate, which is even more challenging when you have a very small surface available.
However, we know that we do not use a smartwatch like a smartphone, and we can only process the minimal information while walking and glancing at our favorite piece of wearable tech. Let’s say, in that case, “Less is more”.
3) Product Design: Motorola craftsmanship
“Motorola has a heritage of build quality (…) and material innovation” said Wicks. To appeal to consumers, the Motorola design team decided that, in addition to be round, the Moto 360 had to be “exclusive in terms of details and material quality”.
The casing is made of stainless steel with a brushed finish and a gloss finish on the edges. For the detachable bands, Motorola is suing metal and “genuine” leather. The bands are going to be interchangeable, and available from various third party vendors.
4) The functionality, powered by Android Wear
See the time at all times
The main function of a watch is to provide the time, one thing that annoys us the most when testing a smartwatch is the inability to see the time at once without the need to click on a button. It is the case with most of the devices we have tried except for the Qualcomm Toq, which has a low-power Mirasol Display.
Jim Wicks assured us that we will be able to constantly see the time on the Moto 360, this is very good news! Short of using a Mirasol display, I suspect that an OLED display can use very little power with the content is properly designed to minimize the number of pixel (and R,G,B sub-pixels) lit at any given time.
Android Wear and Google Now services with Voice Commands
With the Moto X, Motorola enhanced the voice interface by allowing to simply say “Ok Google” to activate the voice commands (just like Glass does), a feature that is not yet available on other Android-powered smartphones. The Moto 360 will leverage that capability, something we wished Samsung would have implemented in its Gear.
From yesterday’s announcements, we know that Android Wear and the Google Now infrastructure will enable users to ask for a game score, for a flight schedule, to set up an appointment in the calendar, to write a text message or a note or to set the alarm clock.
Questions related to currency conversion, weather reports, specific locations will be answered as well. Android phones have the best voice interpreter (Google’s), so we can expect this functionality to be one of the key competitive advantage in the wearable space.
Contextually-aware device, thanks to Google Now
Jim Wicks explains that beyond the regular notifications we all have learned to expect from a smartwatch, the Moto 360 would be able to push contextually relevant information such as automated messages that tells you that your dinner date is two blocks away for example. This is very much like what Google Now does on phones.
Android Wear For Fitness apps leverages Sensors
This was not talked about in today’s interview, but from the Android Wear announcement, we know that Google wants the watch to act as a sensor that monitors your health and Android Wear is designed to communicate with the typical fitness apps.
Android Wear Standard Interface
Jim Wicks confirmed during the Q&A that the moto 360 uses a standard version of Android wear, that enables developers to uses either a round interface or a square interface for their own devices.
Compatible with all Android 4.3+devices
Jim Wicks confirmed during the Q&A that the Moto 360 will work with all Android 4.3+ devices.
Battery Life, not much information – the charger does not require a connector
No specific information was shared regarding the battery life, except that Motorola learned how to do “fantastic power management” from its experience developing Moto Actv, a fitness watch introduced in October 2011 that ran on a “very small battery”, said Motorola’s Design Chief. He also added that “what we invented for power management for Moto ACTV, actually went into the Moto X (…) and everything we learned in Moto X is now into this watch”. Well, Moto ACTV had only 5 hours of battery life at launch time (on paper) and was upgraded later up to 8 hours, which is far from “fantastic”. When it comes to the Moto X, we cannot say that the power management is something out of the ordinary either.
The only interesting information was a hint ( minute 16.05 in the video) about the absence of any type of connector for charging the Moto 360. We guess it could be wireless charging.
Not much more was shared about the features except that ‘everything that you can imagine and everything that has been talked about in terms of Android is there”… well, sure, however will it be possible to answer a call directly on the Moto 360 just like we do with the Galaxy Gear? Will the Smartwatch act as a camera or just as a remote smartphone’s camera like the Sony Smartwatch 2 or the Pebble do? How about the battery life? What is the display resolution?
There is no word on pricing, or on the exact date of availability. Motorola mentions “Summer 2014” on their official website.
By launching the first Android Wear round smartwatch, Motorola is proving that the wearable market is ready to compete with the traditional watch market which sells 80% round watches. In fact it is really proving that the traditional watch market will become like the PC market, with one main operating system provider selling to broad range of device manufacturers. I cannot wait when we will see the first Rolex or Cartier watch powered by Android Wear. In the future, Tizen or Pebble might try to reach out to these famous manufacturers as well, if they are able to sustain the competition with Google.