On a basic level, the Apple Watch and Android Wear are both driven by actionable notifications such as the ability to delete an email or respond to a message straight from the watch as well as information cards that you can quickly glance at. The primary difference appears to be in the way everything's laid out.
Android Wear's interface is like a big spinal cord, with glance able cards, actionable notifications and even music playback controls mashed up into a single, vertical menu. Swiping to the right of any notification brings up potential actions (such as delete and reply buttons for email). In some cases you can launch a proper watch app from its corresponding notification.
The Apple Watch takes a more tentacle approach. Instead of combining glances and notifications into a single column, the two are distinct entities. When you want a quick hit of simple information, such as a current stock price or sports score, you swipe up to the Glances section, then swipe across to the info card you're looking for. Tapping on a Glance leads to its corresponding app if you want to do more.
Notifications on the Apple Watch are more fleeting, popping up with only minimal information at first. If you tap the screen or keep your wrist raised, more information and possible actions appear. Otherwise, the notification disappears.
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Android Wear's single stack of cards seems simpler to navigate, and it allows apps to push out glanceable information only when it's going to be helpful (such as when a sports score changes). On the other hand, Apple gives users more control over what they're looking at and more privacy for incoming notifications. Apple's interface also prevents users from having a big pileup of unaddressed notifications to wade through.
Both systems tackle the same overarching concepts in slightly different ways.
Several other factors set Android Wear and Apple Watch apart. The most obvious difference is the hardware itself, with Apple focusing on a single device (in two sizes) and Google working with hardware partners on a wide variety of shapes, sizes and prices. By controlling the hardware, Apple is placing a bigger bet on new interaction models, such as the Digital Crown for non-touch controls and Force Touch for pressure-sensitive touch commands.
The Apple Watch also has the advantage in mobile payments through its support for Apple Pay, which is already gaining traction among iPhone users. Google has its own mobile wallet service, but hasn't announced Android Wear support, and no current watches have the necessary NFC capabilities built-in.
But despite all these differences, the Apple Watch and Android Wear don't seem fundamentally different. They both, in essence, try to save us the trouble of using our phones by delivering quick bursts of information, and acting as collectors of data (fitness data in particular) to help us live richer lives. In doing so, they ensure that the Apple-Google rivalry will be just as fierce on wearables as it has been on smartphones.
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