At the Google I/O keynote event yesterday, we saw the proliferation of the Google Android ecosystem across several aspects of our lives. They’re giving entertainment another crack with Android TV, they’re entering our cars with Android Auto, and they’re continuing their invasion of our wrists with Android Wear. Now, we have to wonder where Apple fits into this picture and how the Apple iWatch will compete in this developing segment of the market.

Let’s be honest. Smartwatches are hardly a mainstream accessory just yet, but the launch of the LG G Watch and the newly announced Samsung Galaxy Live should help to bolster that interest. This is above and beyond smartwatches that are already available on the market, as well as the Moto 360 later this year. Apple is known both for “borrowing inspiration” from existing devices, as well as re-inventing devices all over again with fresh new features and innovations.

Of course, aside from some leaked rumors and hearsay, we don’t really know anything about the Apple iWatch just yet. Given that, this comparison is going to be quite tentative. Also, I know there are tons of smaller, more independent companies developing smartwatches too, but I’m going to restrict this discussion to some of the bigger players in this space.

Are you ready for some more tech on your wrist?

Screen Size and Quality

According to the most recent rumors, Apple might be launching multiple versions of the Apple iWatch with multiple screen sizes. If they’re able to maintain the pedigree they’ve developed with the Retina Display on the iPhone, iPad and MacBook lines, they should have a pretty great screen on their smartwatch too.

That said, this line of thought hasn’t necessarily translated across other companies. Even though the Super AMOLED screens on Samsung phones (and now tablets) are known for their intense saturation, this didn’t really translate through to the Samsung Gear 2. The same can be said about Sony.

Even though it is more limited in scope and functionality, the Samsung Gear Fit is still one of the most attractive of the bunch and until Apple shows me otherwise, I’m giving that device the edge.

Device Compatibility


To some people, this won’t matter as much. To others, it’s a lot more important. The problem with the Samsung Gear range, up until yesterday’s unveiling of the Gear Live with Android Wear, is that they only worked with select Samsung smartphones. That’s a bummer for all of us who don’t have Samsung phones. Part of the reason why I got the Sony Smartwatch 2 for myself was that it is compatible with just about all Android devices.

My suspicion is that the Apple iWatch will take on a very similar kind of philosophy and it will only pair with compatible Apple iPhone models. Remember that the original iPod didn’t have any Windows support either. If you are looking for a wearable that’ll carry through to as many smartphones as possible, then the Pebble Smartwatch and (better yet) the Pebble Steel is your best bet.

Smartwatch Apps


A smartphone isn’t all that smart if you can’t expand it with your favorite apps and the same is becoming true for smartphone apps. There are several “smart extensions” available for my Sony SmartWatch 2 that let me get into Twitter and Facebook, for instance, as well as some recent updates for even Instagram and designing custom watchfaces. You’ll also find that there is an abudant ecosystem in place for Pebble apps.

Based on what we were able to glean from Google I/O, it sounds like Android Wear will be taking this to the next level with even more seamless integration. This will depend heavily on third-party developers, but it sounds like when you download the Facebook app on your phone, you’ll automatically get the appropriate smartwatch app on your G Watch, Gear Live or Moto 360. How the smartwatch versions compare to their fuller counterparts remains to be seen.

Of course, we still don’t know exactly how the Apple iWatch will handle this part of the equation. When the square-faced, touchscreen-equipped 6th-generation iPod nano hit the scene, it seemed like mini apps were going to become a thing. And they never did. If Apple is smart, they’ll borrow a page out of Android Wear and take a similar approach with its APIs and SDK.

Fitness and Activity Tracker


If you want to go simple, there are all sorts of activity trackers out there that aren’t smartwatches at all. This would include the Fitbits and Fuelbands of the world. Then, you get more hybrid-minded products like the display-free Sony SmartBand SWR10, but that’s hardly a smartwatch either. The Gear Fit probably moves things along a little further and it’s possible that the Android Wear smartwatches could have some fitness in tow.

As far as the Apple iWatch goes, the rumor mill tells us that the folks in Cupertino are very interested in the health and fitness applications of a smartwatch. There could be sensors for blood pressure and hydration levels, in addition to the usual heart rate monitors and pedometers. Apple is so interested in this part of the equation that they are reportedly beta testing the iWatch with pro athletes to get their feedbank on fitness features.

When you factor in Apple’s history with Nike+, the Apple iWatch could be the killer fitness-oriented smartwatch.

Cameras and Extras


Some smartwatches keep things pretty simple. Others seem to throw the kitchen sink on your wrist. The Gear 2 clearly falls into the latter category with its on-board camera and everything else. Smartwatch apps, voice commands (like in Android Wear), and other niceties fall into this set of considerations too.

One very important feature that shouldn’t be overlooked is battery life and, with that, the convenience of wireless charging cannot be downplayed. That’s why it’s coming to the Moto 360. The cradle charger for Samsung’s watches can be troublesome at best. The hope is that Apple will similarly embrace this convenience, though we haven’t really seen anything out of Cupertino on this front just yet.

The Fashion Factor


Even if you’re not a total gadget geek, most people do have some appreciation for cool technology. However, even if Apple, Google, Samsung, Motorola, LG and the rest of them provide us with all sorts of amazing functionality and tech, most Joe Public consumers aren’t going to be interested if the smartwatch is ugly. I know that’s the reaction I got from friends when I showed them the Sony SW2.

Say what you might about Apple’s approach to the industry, but the one thing you can’t deny is that they design some beautiful-looking products. The super slim MacBook Air is a lot easier on the eyes than many Windows notebooks. That much is clear. Given this, when and if we ever do see an Apple iWatch come to light, chances are that it’ll be quite the looker, aluminium unibody or not.

So Does the Apple iWatch Win or Lose?

Okay. I realize this is a cop-out, but the fact of the matter is that we can’t know whether the Apple iWatch is a real winner in the smartwatch space until it is formally unveiled. And even then, we have to step back to see the market reaction. Until then, it’s just a lot of conjecture, hearsay and predictions.

We thought that 2013 was going to be the year of the smartwatch. With the arrival of Android Wear and the rumored launch of the Apple iWatch in a few months, 2014 might really be the year that smartwatches get to be almost as mainstream as the once-geeky smartphone.

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