Google's Android Wear Gets The Jump In Smartwatches

Android Wear may sound like a product tailored more for RoboCop than consumers who still shell out the shekels but it’s the name of the extended Google OS that will soon debut in that “familiar form factor” known as the wrist watch.

The New York Times’ Brian X. Chen calls Google’s announcement yesterday a “pre-emptive move” against Apple into the wearable computer market, giving its hardware offering “a first claim on developing relationships with the many software partners — the apps builders — that help a gadget become popular.”

To that end, it released a preview video for developers that’s all blue sky and touchy-feely about devices that can provide “useful, actionable information” that it hopes a multitude of partners will help it develop. But Google already has a lot of that information itself, of course.



”Automatic, passive reminders will be sent to users via their smartwatch,” points out Dante D'Orazio on The Verge. “The watches will also connect with Android smartphones so that you'll be able to get all the notifications that you want from whatever apps you have installed on your phone.”

Among the first such devices will be the LG G Watch, which will launch next quarter, Darrell Etherington reports on TechCrunch. “It showcases key features of the Android UI extension, including always-on voice commands that respond to the now-familiar ‘OK Google.’ Other partners will debut hardware later this year, Google says.”

The company unveiled “what’s up [its] sleeve” in a blog post, along with a consumer-focused video demonstrating how it delivers “information that moves with you” — critical stuff such as jellyfish warnings at the beach, college hoops scores and the numbers of calories you burned on that sprint to the gate for departing Flight 867. 

“The most interesting twist in Tuesday's announcement was a focus on voice controls for smartwatches, with Sundar Pichai, Google's executive in charge of Android and Chrome, emphasizing the ability to use the keywords ‘OK Google’ to launch an array of possible commands…,” writes Jeremy C. Owens in the San Jose Mercury News.

You can say “‘OK Google’ to get stuff done, like calling a taxi, sending a text, making a restaurant reservation or setting an alarm,” Pichai wrote in a blog post, as Owen points out.

Google says it is working with “several consumer electronics manufacturers, including Asus, HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung; chip makers Broadcom, Imagination, Intel, Mediatek and Qualcomm; and fashion brands like the Fossil Group to bring you watches powered by Android Wear later this year.”

And unlike music players, smartphones and tablets, Google won’t be playing catch-up with Cupertino in the eyes of the people who buy the devices.

“They’re trying to get in front of whatever Apple is going to do,”  Tero Kuittinen, a telecom analyst for the mobile diagnostics firm Alekstra, tells the Times’ Chen. 

As with its Android smartphone software, Google will offer Android Wear free to device makers to encourage its use, a person familiar with Google's plans tells the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Cheng and Daisuke Wakabayashi. “Google hopes that Android Wear ultimately will power many kinds of wearable devices, not just smartwatches,” they write.

On Gizmodo, Eric Limer writes that Android Wear is “an accurate name for a wearable, Android-powered device, sure, but it's also a little misleading. This is a Google Now watch. And that's excellent news.” 

How so? Because “Google Now knows more about you than any other service ever will” and it can use that information to tell you exactly what you need or what to know. “Sure it’s a little creepy,” Limer says. “But it's what will make Android Now smartwatches an unstoppable force.” 

Time’s Jared Newman also uses the “creepy” word in a positive way: “It’s not a major departure from the company’s efforts with Google Glass — and maybe that was Glass’s bigger goal all along — but it’s altogether less creepy and better thought-out than any other wearable software we’ve seen yet.”

It’s also poised to shake up the dedicated fitness device market, just as smartphones have decimated the GPS market. 

“The exact hardware sensors in a Wear watch will vary between models, but Google suggests that sensors from ‘accelerometers to heart rate monitors’ will be available to use within wear apps,” Andrew Williams writes on Trusted Reviews. “A Wear watch with an inbuilt heart rate sensor seems a dead cert.”

That may be creepy news for FitBit but it’s good news for humanoids.

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