This means that in addition to Google-based reminder cards, users will now receive notification cards from 40 apps, including Pandora (NYSE:P), Duolingo, eBay, Lyft, Zillow, and AirBnB. For example, the Pandora card can add music recommendations to Google Now, while the Duolingo card can remind users to take their daily Spanish lesson.
Google Now integration lets app developers expand their traditional push notifications into full cards. In return, Google tethers more third party apps to its ecosystem -- an area where Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is becoming a threat with its single sign-ons. But to realize the true potential of Google Now's app integration, we should focus on Android Wear, the company's slimmed down version of Android for smartwatches.
Why Google Now matters to Android Wear
On smartphones and tablets, Google Now appears as a single page of interest and location-based cards. But on Android Wear watches, users swipe through the cards one at a time. Google's own Android Wear cards feature stocks, weather information, sports scores, traffic updates, flight information, boarding passes, hotel and restaurant reservations, nearby public transit information, and other alerts.
Since Google Now cards offer developers more screen estate than regular push notifications, they might make smartwatch notifications more useful and interactive than smartphone ones simply mirrored to the wrist.
App developers could also eventually take advantage of location tracking to customize cards. For example, you might be able to use the Lyft card on your smartwatch to catch a ride without pulling out your phone. Pandora's card could be used to directly play recommended music, and retailers could put use Google Now cards as loyalty cards, which could be paired with NFC-enabled Android Wear watches for mobile payments.
Should Apple and Samsung be worried?
To port existing apps to Samsung's (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) Tizen devices or Apple Watch, developers must launch brand new apps. By comparison, Google is merely asking developers to bolt on an additional card notification to their existing app -- which would be much easier.
Since it's a simpler approach, Android Wear could pull ahead of Samsung's Tizen devices and Apple Watch in terms of available apps. Moreover, neither Samsung nor Apple has a unified dashboard of cards which matches Google Now's flexibility. Google Now is available on iOS, but I doubt that Apple will let Google flood Apple Watch with full-screen cards.
Last August, Samsung claimed that it had over 1,000 Tizen apps. That eye-popping figure raised eyebrows, but Samsung actually only recommended 22 of them for its Gear smartwatches. But with 40 well-known partners, Google Now could put 40 useful "app cards" on Android Wear devices soon.
Apple Watch could be tougher to beat than Tizen, since companies like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, BMW, Honeywell, and American Airlines will launch native apps for the eagerly anticipated device. These native apps look like they will offer more functionality than Google Now cards.
Google gets OEMs to take the risks
Google's smartwatch strategy resembles the one that it uses with smartphones and tablets -- it leverages its massive search and app ecosystem to convince OEMs to manufacture Android hardware. This way, Google avoids the risks of manufacturing hardware (as it found out the hard way with Motorola) while tethering more users to its ecosystem.
Yet this strategy has two big weaknesses. First, it fragments the market among smaller companies, giving users the impression that Android devices are jacks of all trades but masters of none. Second, market leaders -- like Samsung -- clearly spot Google's intentions and start looking for ways to declare independence.
By combining Google Now with Android Wear, Google is hoping that Android developers will send cards onto smartwatches, giving consumers the impression that Android Wear has a richer ecosystem of apps.
However, that combination doesn't really address the three main complaints about current generation smartwatches -- low battery life, a lack of aesthetic appeal, and unreliable biometric tracking features. Moreover, Google Now cards probably won't ever become full replacements for native smartwatch apps.
Leo Sun owns shares of Facebook. The Motley Fool recommends eBay, Facebook, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Pandora Media, Twitter, and Zillow. The Motley Fool owns shares of eBay, Facebook, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Pandora Media, Twitter, and Zillow. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.