Android Wear: Google jumps into smartwatch arena, Apple close behind
After teasing in a few speaking engagements, Google Senior VP Sundar Pichai announced via the official Google blog that Android will now be featured on a series of wearables, in addition to their existing presence in the phone and tablet markets. This foray will begin with at least two smartwatches made by LG and Motorola.
This comes on the heels of months of speculation about both Android and Apple entering the smartwatch market. While next to no specific information had come out regarding the specific offerings expected from Android, many rumors suggest that Apple’s take will be very health-focused.
The term Android Wear refers to a modified version of the Android phone and tablet OS that will soon be running on smartwatches. That it is called Android Wear and not “Android Watch” is telling; Google is thinking about what kinds of other wearable devices can connect to your Android products. At this time, it is unclear whether the well-known Google Glass will eventually become an Android Wear device.
Android Wear, which we can for now only really envision on a watch, will be based on voice input and an interface that is easy to see and touch on a screen the size of a normal watch. The best use Google demonstrates is that smartwatches can become a place to manage notifications. This might sound like not enough for the investment, but it very well could bring an unprecedented level of efficiency to the way we use smartphones. Google released a video with their blog post to tease what kinds of things we will be able to do with Android Wear devices. [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrqZl2QIz0c]
As we see the size of smartphones grow with every product cycle, smartwatches might be the panacea we have been looking for. A phone that is itself cumbersome due to its impressive size is not such a big deal if we can check our messages, calendar, sports scores, and the like on our watch instead of pulling out the actual phone.
On the same track as the rumors about Apple, Google mentions that smartwatches can become powerful tools to manage health.
Your favorite fitness apps can give you real-time speed, distance and time information on your wrist for your run, cycle or walk.
With a well-developed ecosystem of GPS watches that predates even smartphones, it will be interesting to see how Google can deliver to the fitness enthusiasts. Products like the Garmin Forerunner line offer highly accurate running/biking tracking along with heart rate monitoring and the capability for further extensions, such as cadence monitors. They certainly don’t offer the full spectrum of uses like Android Wear devices will, but will they do a good enough job of fitness tracking to attract the serious athlete? Time will tell, but the fact that Apple is also interested in this market suggests it is a desirable one.
LG has simultaneously launched their first smartwatch, which will run Android Wear. This will be called the G Watch and was developed in close collaboration with Google, according to their press release.
Though LG says the G Watch will be introduced in the second quarter of 2014, details are very sparse for now. Things are being kept close enough to the vest that we will not be able to compare the offerings of different manufacturers just yet. What we do have is a photo of the G Watch, which is tantalizingly low in detail.
Motorola, for its part, has announced the Moto 360, which will also run Android Wear. They have released a short video that is ostensibly much more candid than what we’ve gotten from LG, but we spend just a few seconds actually looking at the watch in the video. As opposed to practically all of the competition, the main thing you will notice is a round timepiece.
Further, in the final moments you can see the watch mock-up changing in material and color, suggesting there may be metal, leather, and other options for the band and perhaps more aggressive color schemes available for the timepiece itself, a la the Moto X. There is no discussion of actual watch features beyond its design in the video.
In images released and a statement about the forthcoming product, we only get a vague idea of how the watch will factor in our day-to-day lives, if we choose to buy it. They offer nothing that differentiates itself from the features of Android Wear more generally highlighted by Pichai’s blog post.
<dd class='wp-caption-text gallery-caption' id='gallery-1-470'> This is labeled as a leather strap. </dd> </dl> <dl class='gallery-item'> <dt class='gallery-icon landscape'> <img /> </dt> <dd class='wp-caption-text gallery-caption' id='gallery-1-471'> This is a metal version. </dd> </dl> <br style="clear: both" /> <dl class='gallery-item'> <dt class='gallery-icon landscape'> <img /> </dt> <dd class='wp-caption-text gallery-caption' id='gallery-1-472'> Google Now figures to be featured prominently. </dd> </dl> <dl class='gallery-item'> <dt class='gallery-icon landscape'> <img /> </dt> <dd class='wp-caption-text gallery-caption' id='gallery-1-477'> GPS may play a large role in the most common uses for Android smartwatches. </dd> </dl> <br style="clear: both" />
Pichai says LG and Motorola are not the only players here and that they have reached out to a myriad of companies – which include Asus, HTC, Samsung, Broadcom, Imagination, Intel, Mediatek, Qualcomm, and Fossil Group (the fashion brand) – to partner up with Google to bring out more wearables with Android Wear in 2014.
The key missing link here is price. What will these cost? The Samsung Galaxy Gear retails for almost $300, yet has been criticized for its lack of functionality, poor battery life, and incompatibility with all but a few Samsung devices.
On the other hand, Pebble has been able to get well into the affordable price range (retail is roughly $150) while offering compatibility with both Android and iOS along with a week of battery life. This has come with some cost, as it offers no colors, no touch screen, and no voice input; they made a watch that works very well at its few tasks rather than one that flounders at a variety of tasks.
Can Android Wear bring the price and the broad Android compatibility of Pebble with the ambitious feature set of Samsung Galaxy Gear? Further, can the wide-open Android development community bring new uses to the smartwatch that make Android the market leader? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
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