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Q&A: The state of Android wearables and HTC's dual-lens camera

samsung galaxy gear 2 neo mwc jan 2014 start button
Credit: Image: Melissa Riofrio

At the Android Developers conference, AnDevCon, I had a chance to catch-up with HTC’s master Android developer Dario Laverde about Google’s new wearable user interface (UI) called Android Wear and HTC’s new dual-lens camera. Laverde spends a lot of time in front of innovative software developers, teaching them about the newest mobile and wearable technologies making for an insightful discussion.  

Q: What does the preview release of Android Wear mean to end users?

A: Not much yet, but it’s an important step in getting Android wearable apps built for them by developers. There are a lot more smartwatches available than just those produced by big brands. Each one has a different UI, which is fragmenting the market, challenging developers to write one app that will run everywhere.

Android Wear is needed to give developers a UI they could depend on to operate on a large share of Android wearables. Android Wear won’t be mandatory, but for developers it is a welcomed standard. It’s like the railroads standardizing the gauge of tracks so trains could cross onto other railroad lines.

Q: From what you have seen so far will this lead to a lot of commoditization of Android smartwatches?

A: I can’t comment on unreleased products, but I don’t think so. We could see a lot of differentiation in smartwatches. Very light versions of Android could materialize, with Android Wear used in very application-specific, very battery-efficient wearable devices. Then again, there could be smartwatches with a complete version of Android for people who want to replace their smartphones with a smartwatch.

Q: You’re wearing an Android smartwatch running Android Wear. Who makes it?

A: I did. It was a personal project to show other developers a tangible instance of Android Wear running on some hardware. Google’s preview only runs on a PC emulator. This is OK to get started, but Android Wear apps can only be tested by wearing a device. The look and feel of Android Wear gestures and voice recognition really can’t be emulated with mouse clicks on an emulator. I took some of the code from the emulator and loaded it on a SmartQ Z1 watch purchased on Alibaba in China for $99 to give it the Android Wear look and feel so people could have firsthand experience with the UI. By the way, if you or anyone else wants to do this, go ahead, but don’t call me, you are on your own.

Q: Why are you at AnDevCon talking to developers about the new HTC One M8 dual-lens camera?

A: We recently released a software developer kit (SDK) that developers can use to create camera apps that use the dual-lens camera.

Q: The demos of the dual-lens camera’s 3D effects on the M8 are stunning, but aren’t smartphone camera apps suffering from so many incremental features consumers are hard pressed to absorb them?

A: I understand what you mean, but this is not the case here. We are on to something new. It’s similar technology to that employed by Google in Project Tango that can accurately map a room or guide a drone. The two cameras work together naturally, like your eyes to create accurate depth perception using complex mathematics that compares all the pixels in the image and triangulates them into a three-dimensional model of the real world. Developers can build apps with a human-like understanding of space and geometry. This goes far beyond imaging techniques like filters, 3D effects, and panoramic views. Machine vision is expanding beyond specialized applications to become more mainstream; like simple navigation became maps and then location information became a consumer expectation. Apps that understand space and geometry like a human will become a consumer expectation too. Beyond this I can’t predict all the apps that will be built, but in two years this could also become mainstream.

Q: What’s the next big development we’ll see in Android and wearables?

A: I can’t really comment about what’s next from HTC. I can say that HTC has been first in implementing new technologies, such as stylus-based tablets and front-facing cameras that were later widely adopted by the mobile industry. You’ll have to wait and see how this plays out with wearables and accessories.

One thing that developers and consumers will appreciate that is coming to the entire Android ecosystem is faster update cycles. We are putting parts of our UI, HTC Sense, on the Google Play Store so that people don’t have to wait for their carrier to push an OS update to get our latest version. Google Play Editions produced by leaders such as HTC and sold by Google will also experience faster releases of new versions of Android.

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