A summer of Android Wear

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The smartwatch market is really heating up with Google's Android Wear on the rise and Apple Watch making its debut earlier this year. Of course “smart watches” have been around for decades, with the first digital watch appearing in 1972 and, over the past couple of years, devices such as Pebble being a popular choice in connecting your wrist to your phone. But it’s exciting to see how this landscape is evolving as these devices hit the mainstream.

There’s certainly fun to be had in the fitness and lifestyle apps that are leading the market focus at this stage, but as the summer intern I‘m exploring the device in a more caring capacity.

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As part of my summer internship I was given a Motorola Moto 360 which uses Android Wear OS and was encouraged to take it away and get comfortable with it… and I was certainly willing to indulge. The task was to create an app that interacts with a watch worn by "Mum" who’s in the early stages of dementia. With the functionality required including reminding "Mum" what medication she needs to take and letting me know how she’s doing and whether attention is required, I began working on a pair of apps to answer the challenge.

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I signed up to Xamarin, a mobile platform which allows you to build native Android and iOS apps using C#, and got stuck into their samples and forums. When I got my first phone and watch apps up and running, as excited as I was to make something work, it didn’t take me long to learn that there are some limitations to the current wearable devices.

Faced with the hurdle that smartwatches are mostly phone-dependant and GPS-chip-less (no longer a problem on all devices) I had to rethink some of our plans. It was clear to me that "Mum" would also need a smartphone, but thanks to the recent update the phone and watch don’t need to be in range as long as they’re on wifi.

My biggest tip for when you are starting out with Android Wear would be to familiarise yourself with the design documentation as early as possible, and not to assume that everything is the same as “Android but smaller”. I found myself having to change tack more than once when faced with challenges.

It was an enjoyable experience, if at times a little frustrating, and in the end I was happy we produced a workable prototype as you can see in the images above. It’s exciting to imagine where wearables will be in the very near future.

Things I learnt (and wish I knew earlier)

  • Any deployment to the real watch took a long time as it has to go over bluetooth, using the emulator was quicker most of the time.
  • When developing ensure the watch and phone app use the same package name.

How to debug on Android Wear hardware over bluetooth

  1. Turn on USB Debugging on the phone.
  2. Turn on Debugging over Bluetooth in the ‘Android Wear’ app on the phone.
  3. Turn on ADB Debugging and Debug over Bluetooth in Developer options on the watch.
  4. Run the following commands from the …\ android-sdk\platform-tools\ folder to connect the watch to the ADB:
adb forward tcp:4444 localabstract:/adb-hub  
adb connect localhost:4444  
  1. In the ‘Android Wear’ app on the phone both Host and Target should now be connected.
  2. If using the emulator and having issues connecting to the android wear app on your device try adb -d forward tcp:5601 tcp:5601 again from the SDK folder
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Caleb White - Intern