Google Brings Android to Smart Watches

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Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  )  clearly believes in the future of wearables. The company has invested heavily in its Google Glass project and now it has released a version of its Android operating system -- the one that powers countless smartphones and tablets -- specifically for smart watches.

"Today we're announcing Android Wear, a project that extends Android to wearables. And we're starting with the most familiar wearable—watches," the company said on its blog .

What will Android Wear do?

According to Google, Android Wear will let watches go "well beyond the mere act of just telling you the time." The company wrote that it expects "a range of new devices along with an expansive catalogue of apps." The blog post listed what it expects the devices and apps to do including:

  • Offering useful information when you need it most: The wide variety of Android applications means you'll receive the latest posts and updates from your favorite social apps, chats from your preferred messaging apps, notifications from shopping, news and photography apps, and more. 
  • Giving straight answers to spoken questions: Just say "Ok Google" to ask questions, like how many calories are in an avocado, what time your flight leaves, and the score of the game. Or say "Ok Google" to get stuff done, like calling a taxi, sending a text, making a restaurant reservation or setting an alarm. 
  • The ability to better monitor your health and fitness: Hit your exercise goals with reminders and fitness summaries from Android Wear. Your favorite fitness apps can give you real-time speed, distance, and time information on your wrist for your run, cycle, or walk. 
  • Your key to a multiscreen world: Android Wear lets you access and control other devices from your wrist. Just say "Ok Google" to fire up a music playlist on your phone, or cast your favorite movie to your TV. 

Google also offered a link to a part of its developer section where a developer's package could be downloaded. The blog post also listed a number of companies already making plans for Android Wear.

"We're also already 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," the post said.

How big is the wearables market?

There are a number of watches and wearables already available. Fredric Paul wrote about the many companies that showed wearables at the 2014 Consumer Electronic Show on Broadcom's blog. He pointed out that companies ranging from fashion brands including Skechers (NYSE: SKX  ) to technology companies including Magellan and Garmin (NASDAQ: GRMN  ) (among many others) were all showing off wearables.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, "in 2014 it means a billion-dollar market appealing to millions of Americans. And that's only scratching the surface of the category's potential," Paul reported.

The CES estimated that the wearable fitness market will top $1.15 billion this year, up 35% from last year.

Bloomberg also reported in November 2013 that "wearables are poised to take off as consumers seek new ways to weave technology into everyday life" citing a report from IHS Global Insights that said the market could grow to "about $30 billion by 2018."

Is Google's Android Wear a good idea?

For all the hype they have generated, wearables have yet to produce a hit and not all companies share IHS's $30 billion by 2018 outlook. Cisco released a chart in February 2014 that paints a much bleaker picture, The Register reported. The chart shows 2013 sales of 22 million wearable devices growing to 177 million in 2018. 

"The context here is that 177 million devices is a very small market compared to (say) the global mobile phone market: by 2018, roughly 20 smartphones will ship for every one wearable device, if the Cisco prediction is correct," the paper reported.

Still the Cisco prediction was made before the announcement of Android Wear. Google entering the market with a dedicated version of Android is a game-changer that brings a level of acceptability to the category. Developers will now have a unified tool to work with and that might lead to the next breakout device.

Watches and fitness wearables are interesting -- but limited as currently envisioned. The launch of Android Wear -- which is open to all Google developer partners -- opens up the idea that a someone (or some company) will create a "watch" that does things we can't imagine a watch doing today. It won't be a tiny phone on your wrist, or a phone mashed up with a fitness band. Instead it will be something entirely new that like the iPhone did for phones will change our concept of wearables.

What's Apple working on?

If you thought the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad were amazing, just wait until you see this. One hundred of Apple's top engineers are busy building one in a secret lab. And an ABI Research report predicts 485 million of them could be sold over the next decade. But you can invest in it right now ... for just a fraction of the price of Apple stock. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening new report.

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Daniel B. Kline

Daniel B. Kline is an accomplished writer and editor who has worked for the Microsoft's Finance app and The Boston Globe, where he wrote for the paper and ran the business desk. His latest book "Worst Ideas Ever" (Skyhorse) can be purchased at bookstores everywhere.

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