Google has finally announced its entrance into the smartwatch segment with the platform Android Wear. Much like how Android is a broadly adopted platform by many smartphone OEMs, Google hopes to have the same level of adoption with Android Wear. At its most basic level, Android Wear will be centered upon Google Now, which is a way of presenting predictive information in a card format. It will also serve as a touchless control device like the Moto X for voice searches, along with notifications and the abAndrility to act on specific notifications without taking out a phone, such as dictating a text message. If this sounds somewhat familiar, that’s definitely not unusual, because that’s exactly what Google Glass is for. An example of the notification system and the touchless controls can be seen below.

Android Wear isn't just borrowing the Android brand name either, it seems that Android Wear is actually based on Android proper. The big part that Google hopes developers will use is the Wear SDK, which allows for custom UIs, sensor data collection, communication between wearable and phone, and hooking into the touchless control feature.

What is different is the social factor. While Glass is extremely obvious and relatively unacceptable to society due to potential privacy implications, an Android Wear smartwatch wouldn’t have such issues because a camera or video on a watch would be quite conspicuous. While this makes it much easier to see mass-market adoption of smartwatches, the lack of heads-up display functionality removes many of the killer applications that Glass had, such as the potential for live video streaming and navigation without taking ones’ eyes off the road. It’s hard to say whether this would mean that the case for a smartwatch is tough to swallow, but in the interim, such a formfactor is ideal.

The elephant in the room is why Google is doing this. Ultimately, no one has really figured out how to best implement the smartwatch, and when the vast majority of people seem to expect budget prices on these accessories, it speaks to the perceived utility and value of such accessories. Despite this, Google is pushing on, and I’m convinced that this is the product of a burning desire to maintain the exponential growth that the smartphone market once had, as products like the Moto G are signaling a new era of dramatically depressed profit margins, greatly lengthened upgrade cycles, and OEM consolidation. This mirroring of the PC industry is likely the strongest reason why Google and its hardware partners are now moving to wearables. The other key reason is that Google wants to have the first-mover advantage in case wearables take off, a clear case of learning from past experiences in the smartphone space. The fact that it's now physically possible to have sufficient compute for a usable smartwatch explains the timing as well.

Of course, it’s worth looking at the sorts of designs already announced. The first one that we knew of was announced back in MWC at the Motorola press conference, but now we’ve seen the first images of the actual watch, dubbed the Moto 360, and it’s clear that Motorola understands that the most important part of the watch component has to be industrial design/material feel. While the circular display is undoubtedly more expensive, it’s definitely important as it helps to make the watch actually feel like a watch.

The more traditional smartwatch would be the LG G Watch, which is said to be aimed at creating a low barrier to entry for developing on the Android Wear platform, which parallels the Nexus lineup for Android smartphones and tablets. Neither the LG G Watch nor the Moto 360 have any specific details for the display, SoC, RAM, or any other specifications, but it’s not a stretch to say that these would be running low power CPU cores with 512MB of RAM or less, with display resolutions solidly below VGA (640x480), based upon the size of the display that can be reasonably fitted on a watch for normal wrists.

Ultimately, it’s hard to say whether this will be an enduring trend or a passing fad. I’m reminded of early smartphones, which were often not very well polished as most OEMs had not yet figured out the right formula for solid usability. After all, a watch has generally been for fashion, while phones have always been tools first.

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  • jlbahr - Thursday, March 20, 2014 - link

    I agree. Battery life is a big issue with real people, and most phone SoC's just chew up too much battery life -- and an AW will have an even smaller battery, no doubt (e.g., 200 mAh). Wearables like the Fuelband and FitBit get around this by using very low power SoC's like the STM32 and NO DRAM and no external flash and no GPS or mid-powered sensors. The QC Toq is a good example of a wearable with poor battery life. Any idea what the proposed SoC is in the Moto 360 or LG G Watch? Reply
  • Walkop - Thursday, March 20, 2014 - link

    Honestly, I don't see Apple being able to compete even remotely with Google in this regard. They simply don't have the software base to accomplish this in a competitive timeframe.

    If the Moto 360 is on even the same playing field as the Motto X and G, it'll have a great build, feel great and look classy on the wrist, and have fantastic, pointed functionality (plus great battery life) at a good price.
    Reply
  • Walkop - Thursday, March 20, 2014 - link

    *Moto. No editing. :p Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, March 24, 2014 - link

    It's like you don't remember that Apple has been making iPods for over a decade now.

    They absolutely have the SW and HW base to make a wearable; I'm not certain why you would say otherwise.

    They know a lot about low power CE, what with the 24 hour continuous runtime of their 6th gen iPod nano.
    Reply
  • jjj - Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - link

    You seem to get lost into the hate narrative about glass, the camera is a minor problem, there are plenty of cheap cameras that are smaller and easier to hide , phones already are a privacy nightmare , there is no retail Glass hardware and so on.
    As for Android Wear , watches are just a first step, Google makes it clear that it's not just for that. Glasses are the next huge thing (Glass, Oculus) and a huge opportunity for any OS to rise and/or fall.That's why they are doing it, they got to try to keep Android on top.
    About the watches and the usage, it don't seem to be anywhere near enough. The focus still is on notifications and fitness while the form factor is just copying watches instead of better utilizing the available space.Watches have the advantage of always on our wrists, glasses won't be always on out heads and phones are in our pockets. Before watches can sell tens of millions of units per quarter we need them to have a lot more functionality. Payments would be a lot more convenient than with other devices, remote control would be a challenge UI wise but again rather convenient (this includes smart home, unlocking cars). Even at 50$-100$ watches with just notification and fitness functionality won't do all that great.Google and it's partners need to understand that they need to launch a compelling device that makes significant waves not this.
    Hardware wise, as long as they insist on a watch like shape,it's not smart enough.
    Anyway watches , even if they become good enough are a pretty limited opportunity,The hardware can't really evolve much, the size of the display is limited and even flexible/expandable screens won't help ( projectors are out of the question for quite a while and by then watches as a distinct category would be dead). Somewhere down the road a hybrid glasses/watch device should be doable ,we can't keep our glasses always on so we might as well store them on our wrist.
    Anyway , Android took this step, now we'll have to see what other OSes open to more than 1 OEM are ready to try to be the next dominant OS. Glasses will offer quite a lot of interesting options. AR ( virtual keyboards or other devices)and adaptive UI - here Project Tango should help Google do some cool things.
    I am not very sure about forking Android, everybody is trying to unify their OSes, forking Android doesn't seem all that great so i hope it's not all that forked and it's pretty much KitKat.
    Reply
  • extide - Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - link

    This is not at all a fork of Android, it is meant to be used as an extension to Android. I am not sure if they are going to target MCU type SoC's (Cortex M class) or full on application processors (Cortex A class), but my guess would be they are probably going to go for the latter. This would mean they would of course still use the Linux kernel, but most of the rest of the OS would be quite different. I would imagine most of the codebase would be new code. Definitely not a fork of the Android codebase. Reply
  • solipsism - Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - link

    An extension of a smartphone (or other computer device) is exactly how I perceive this market to succeed. Google Glass, Galaxy Wear, etc. all are trying to duplicate too many features of a smartphone instead of trying to be a powerful accessory to a smartphone.

    I would love to see a lot of biometrics that can monitor health over a long period. This device is ugly and too big but I think this is the sort of biometrics we can expect in a decent looking and sized device within a couple years: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/healbe-gobe-the-...
    Reply
  • jlbahr - Thursday, March 20, 2014 - link

    The SDK refers to ARM v7a architectures, which are at a minimum Cortex M5 . . . quite a bit more speed, power consumption, heat dissipation, etc than the usual MCU's used in current wearables. So it will be interesting to see what's actually in an LG G Watch or Moto 360. Reply
  • sevenmack - Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - link

    "After all, a watch has generally been for fashion, while phones have always been tools first."

    Actually, Josh, that statement is not true. Historically, watches (including pocket watches and wristwatches) have primarily served as tools, especially for measuring speed and distance, as well as for navigation. That's why watches such as chronographs continue to have such tools as tachymeters (which are used to calculate speed based on travel time) and dive watches such as those from Rolex still have rotating bezels for use under water. And much of the complications that are features of mechanical and quartz watches today were developed in the previous centuries to use technology to solve problems of those times; moon phases, for example, were important tools for sailors and navigators of a century ago.

    While fashion has become a dominant role, one can easily say that watches were the tools that smartphones are today. And with the focus on design becoming a bigger part of smartphone development, it can be said that our phones will become fashion accessories by the end of this century. Just like watches.
    Reply
  • TerylT - Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - link

    Exactly,
    A watch is a tool, I admit that I have some rather expensive watches that could be classified as fashion accessories, Tissot, Fossil, Relic and Seiko to name a few. However, each of these watches are designed to do one thing extremely well, Keep time. Secondly they last, my Tissot is a decade old and still looks new, though it's been worn daily in rather harsh environments. Same with the others.

    While I really look forward to the future of smart watches, I have to wonder if we'll be dropping $300+ on devices that are on a 12 month life cycle? With current battery tech and assuming that the batteries are non user replaceable the long end of the life cycle is about 24 months or so.
    Reply

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