Google didn't hold a press conference at this year's CES, but the influence of Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) search giant was evident all over the showroom floor. Google's mobile operating system, Android, continues to expand its reach, moving from mobile phones and tablets to wearables, automobiles, and living rooms. Nowhere was this trend more evident than at CES 2016.
Android Wear continues to differentiate itself
Fragmentation has long been seen as a major problem for Google's mobile operating system. The sheer number of different Android handsets raises security concerns and slows the roll out of new features. But fragmentation has also served to drive the platform forward -- Google's hardware partners offer Android handsets in all manner of shapes and sizes, and at virtually every price point.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Android Wear. With a few notable exceptions, most of the Android Wear watches released to date have followed the same generic pattern: for about $300, buyers get a large, circular display and a few standard features.
But at CES 2016, Google's hardware partners introduced some new Android Wear watches that are legitimately unique: Watch-maker Casio unveiled the Smart Outdoor Watch, while Chinese handset giant Huawei introduced a pair of devices aimed explicitly at women.
Casio's Smart Outdoor Watch isn't aimed at everyone. At $500, it's expensive for an Android Wear watch, and it's unapologetically bulky, almost garish in its design. But Casio's watch isn't meant to be paired with a suit or worn everyday. It's aimed explicitly at outdoor enthusiasts -- hikers looking for a new tool to make backcountry exploration just a bit easier. Powered by Android Wear, it includes all the smart features of Google's platform, but is augmented with a pressure sensor, compass, and a body that can withstand the elements -- it even meets U.S. military standards.
Huawei's Jewel and Elegant are the exact opposite. Last year, Huawei released the Huawei Watch -- an Android Wear watch that, while it wasn't explicitly stated, was clearly aimed at men. At their cores, the Jewel and Elegant are the same device as the Huawei Watch, but -- in rose gold and white and blue leather, adorned with Swarovski crystals -- sport a much more feminine design.
Taking over the living room, one smart TV and speaker at a time
Last year, a handful of TV manufacturers -- Sony, Philips, Sharp -- adopted Android TV, using Google's operating system to power their smart TV platforms. At this year's CES, Google gained a few more partners, including RCA, TCL, and Hisense. Collectively, those firms accounted for about one-fifth of the TVs sold in 2014, according to WitsView. As consumers upgrade and replace aging TV sets, Android TV should make its way into millions of homes. That additional market share should benefit Google's platform, ensuring that app creators support the Android TV platform.
A number of home theater specialists -- including B&O Play, Harman Kardon, Onkyo and Pioneer -- have also chosen to include Google Cast technology into their speakers. Buyers of these speakers will be able to send streaming music from Google Cast-compatible apps (most notably its own Google Play Music) to their home theater setups.
Expanding to the dashboard
Finally, Google gained a few new allies among the major automobile manufacturers. Android Auto is Google's solution for the car dashboard. An Android Auto-equipped headset can interface directly with an Android-powered handset, allowing drivers to easily access smartphone apps (including Google Maps and Google Play Music) directly from their dashboards.
Headset-makers Harman, Kenwood, and Pioneer announced new after-market Android Auto headsets that can be installed into older cars. Ford and Chrysler said Android Auto would be coming to many of their new 2017 models.(NYSE:F)
The growing prevalence of Android Auto should benefit Google's mobile operating system as Android handsets become more useful to drivers with Android Auto-equipped vehicles.