Although they were both dominant in their own ways before, tech giants Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) central roles in creating the modern smartphone and tablet market helped cement each company's place atop the global tech landscape.

No one argues that.

However, as we seen the tablet and smartphone markets both show signs of maturing lately, investors in both Apple and Google will need to increasingly look to what's ahead for either tech giant to understand their possible prospects in the years to come.

Both Apple and Google have been widely expected to play roles in the coming "wearables revolution," similar to the places they hold in the smartphone and tablet market. And in that effort, Google recently made a what it's billing as a great leap forward in extending its Android empire into smartwatches this week.

"Android Wear: Information that moves you" 
Recent at the South by Southwest interactive conference, Google SVP Sundar Pichai announced that Google planned to roll out a version of its Android mobile OS for wearables in short order. And yesterday, Google followed-up on Pichai's announcement with a blog post on its official Android blog giving firmer details on just what Android for wearables, now dubbed "Android Wear," will entail.

As we've seen with other smartwatches, the primary benefit Google seems to be touting with this new device class is ease of use and accessibility. In the blog post, Google highlights convenient-use cases like voice integration to access information from your smartphone and quick notifications from smartphone apps to keep you posted on relevant information.

In addition to announcing Android Wear, Google also referenced partnerships hardware manufacturers like Asus, HTC, LG, Samsung, and Motorola. Motorola and LG both also announced their own smartwatches in conjunction with Google's announcement, and both look beautiful.

Source: Motorola

If either are any indication, but especially Motorola's Moto 360, the next wave of smartwatches should be set to make a major leap forward as far as design aesthetics are concerned. In addition to device OEMS, Google announced chipmakers -- Broadcom, Intel, Mediatek, and Qualcomm -- that are hard at work in developing chips to power this new device class. And lastly, Google also mentioned fashion brands like Fossil as also having an Android Wear based product in development as well.

Apple's shadow still looms large
This kind of functionality is pleasant enough. However, it seems to stop well short of the kind of game-changing new technological advancement we saw at the advent the smartwatch, or even the tablet. And to me, that's where Apple deserves mention in this discussion.

Even the "best" smartwatches on the market today, like Samsung's Galaxy Gear, still largely serve as extensions of a smartphones functionality: They push your texts to your watch so you don't have to take your phone out of your pocket; they give you directions to a location without having to stare at your smartphone; they let you answer phone calls while keeping your phone in the bag.

However, because they're Bluetooth reliant on a smartphone as a connectivity hub, these smartwatches are essentially still glorified digital watches when taken outside the proximity of the smartphones to which they must be tethered.

However, reports coming out of Apple's camp speak to the much anticipated iWatch that will actually do things your smartphone cannot, things like advanced sensor-based biometrics that won't render the device brainless in the absence of a smartphone. And especially with the price tags for this emerging device class likely to sit somewhere in the hundreds of dollars, it's hard to imagine the entire category gaining broad consumer adoption without adding an extra layer of usability.

These are still rumors of course, but they paint Apple's coming device as adding an entire layer of functionality that the current field of Android Wear-based devices simply cannot match.

Whether or not Apple meets these monumental expectations remains to be seen. However, if the current devices we're seeing surround the Android Gear rollout serve as any indication, the smartwatch field still leaves the door open to names like Apple to push this emerging category toward its broader potential.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.