Take it to the bank, 2014 will be another seminal year in the global technology market, as names like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and others truly kick-off the next big consumer tech product category: smartwatches.
Although it likely remains several months away, Apple's iWatch has garnered the bulk of the smartwatch attention from the financial and media communities. Personally, Apple's iWatch remains my bet for the device that's most likely to elevate the smartwatch beyond the niche segment it remains today for reasons I've already discussed.
However, revisiting the history of the global smartphone and tablet markets should also highlight the fact that search powerhouse Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) will also have a major influence on the smartwatch market in the years to come.
Google bets big on Android Wear
Google signaled that it too planned to get in on the wearables craze when it introduced Android Wear several months back, although it didn't reveal too much in the way of specifics about this next Android paradigm. Then last week Google posted a video to its Google Developers YouTube channel discussing more specific aspects of Android Wear's upcoming developer kit.
One of the big advantages Google clearly sees in wearables are their potential for more efficient access to key information, and they're definitely right to an extent. To achieve this in practice, Google plans to structure Android Wear around what it calls "micro interactions," which appears to mean the recovery of relevant information in real time (think:
retrieving flight information as you're heading to the airport). Beyond that, Google plans to enable Android Wear with additional functionality such as integration with sensors on smartwatches, voice querying, and data transmission with other devices like tablets and smartphones. It's certainly nice to hear this, but each of these features should more of less have been expected from Android Wear from the start.
Still not good enough to beat Apple's iWatch
Even though this update fell well short of groundbreaking, it served if nothing else as another useful affirmation of Google's commitment to ensuring Android becomes the dominant OS for future smartwatches. Expect Android Wear to get a lot more hype later this week when Google hosts its I/O conference in San Francisco as well.
This announcement also showed why Google's smartwatch progress in terms of market share or units shipped is likely to remain muted in the short-term at least, and that's hardware. One of the limitations Google has to deal with in only controlling the software side of the user experience is that it's beholden to its various OEM partners to hold up their end of the bargain as far as innovation goes.
In the case of Android Wear, the emphasis on sensor integration implies that Google knows full well that next-gen functionalities like advanced biometrics monitoring are sure to be huge value-adds for smartwatches in the years ahead. However, until Google's OEM partners can find ways to integrate advanced sensors into their smartwatches beyond something as blasé as a heart rate monitor, Android Wear's consumer appeal will also remain muted.
That's once again where Apple comes up in the discussion. Apple completely reset the expectation of what a smartphone could do when it launched the iPhone in 2007. However, other smartphone OEMs (with some help from Google's Android) quickly caught up to many aspects of Apple's smartphone functionality, and I imagine we'll see the same scenario play out in the years ahead. So while Google's clearly planning on betting big on Android, Android Wear's moment in the sun might still be a year or two away.