iOS 7 day arrives: smartwatch users rejoice, Android users frown

If you are a smartwatch user, you've probably found that in these early days it's not always as easy as you'd like to get notifications from your smartphone. That's because smartphone OS's haven't been completely optimized for efficient communication with wearables over their  Bluetooth connection. 

That's about to change, at least if you're an iOS device user. That's because in iOS 7, Apple has brought a number of improvements to enhance interaction with wearables like smartwatches via Bluetooth.

Here's a quick rundown of how things are going to change with iOS 7 for smartwatches. 

No broken links

If you use a smartwatch tethered to a smartphone, you're used to the two devices losing track of one another. In iOS 6, this was due to a shutting down of background services in order to preserve memory, which resulted in dropped connections and perpetual frustration for smartwatch users. In iOS 7, a revamped State Preservation and Restoration Service means that a service link will be preserved between devices like smartwatches, which means no more dropped connections.  

Better notifications

Another major improvement in iOS 7 is full access to the Apple Notification Center Service (ANCS). In iOS 6, smartwatches could only really count on receiving notifications from SMS and email (and not always reliably), and notifications for social apps and other web-centric consumer services required a third party app to work at all.

With iOS 7, Apple has opened up full access to ANCS, which means delivery of all notifications and updates from apps without the need for another app.   Metawatch has already announced an update for their customers enabling native access to updates from web services like Facebook, Skype, Shopify and more.

More efficient battery usage

One of the problems for smartwatch users is the constant battery drain of a persistent tethered connection needed for sending updates from their phone. While Bluetooth Smart (or Bluetooth Low Energy) had limited support in iOS 6, real-time messaging of things such as SMS still required traversal over basic Bluetooth.

With iOS 7, this is solved as all notifications and messaging going through a single Bluetooth Smart connection, which will significantly preserve battery life. 

Ok, so what about Android?

It's been no secret that Android has never been as easy to support for smartwatch manufacturers and app developers as iOS. The COOKOO smartwatch supported the iPhone out the door, but had significant difficulty rolling out their Android app. Other smartwatch makers had suggested Android is a more difficult environment for their products.

Android 4.3, the third revision of Jelly Bean, has native support for Bluetooth Smart, but it's not clear how optimized phones with 4.3 phones will be. iOS 6 supported Bluetooth Low Energy, but in iOS 7, Apple fully embraced it, and full access to notifications through the Apple Notification Center Service gives connected wearables carte blanche access to data screens from apps.

It also appears smartwatch makers like Metawatch and Pebble have already rolled the improvements enabled by iOS 7 into their firmware. As of today,  it doesn't appear as if any of the smartwatches on the market have done so with Android (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong in the comments).

I have no doubt that Android will eventually improve its interaction with smartwatches and wearables, particularly since Android 4.3 does in fact have native support for Bluetooth Smart and it's clearly in Google's best interest to foster a thriving wearables ecosystem.

However, as of today, it looks as if Apple has taken a clear (if temporary) lead in being "smartwatch-friendly" relative to Android.  


Here is a screenshot of Metawatch's Metawatch Manager, which will adds new alerts automatically: 


Metawatch Manager

Metawatch Manager

Below is a video showing an iOS7 beta tester getting automatic, realitime notifications on their Pebble: