Google unveils Android Wear project, takes aim at smartwatches first

Google ups the ante on wearables, adding smartwatches to Google Glass as it details its Android Wear operating system.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Watches running Google's new Android Wear operating system will be launched later this year, the company revealed in an update on its plans for wearable devices.

In a post on the Google blog, Sundar Pichai  Google's SVP of Android, Chrome and Apps — provided details of the Android Wear operating system that will power wearable devices, starting with smartwatches.

Before the iWatch: A history of smartwatches, in pictures

Google said it is already working with consumer electronics manufacturers, including Asus, HTC, LG, Motorola, and Samsung, chip makers Broadcom, Imagination, Intel, Mediatek, and Qualcomm, and fashion brands including the Fossil Group to deliver watches powered by Android Wear "later this year".

Pichai said while many of us are rarely without smartphones, devices launched to date have barely scratched the surface of what's possible with mobile technology. "That's why we're so excited about wearables — they understand the context of the world around you, and you can interact with them simply and efficiently, with just a glance or a spoken word."

As well as telling the time, watches powered by Android Wear will allow wearers to receive updates from social apps, chats from messaging apps or news updates. As with an Android smartphone currently, wearers will be able to ask the devices questions, using the phrase "Okay Google".

The smartwatches will also be able to display fitness goals, and allow users to control other devices from their wrist, such as using it to fire up a music playlist on their phone.

Google said developers can download a preview of Android Wear so they can tailor their existing app notifications for watches using the operating system. "Because Android for wearables works with Android's rich notification system, many apps will already work well," Pichai said.

As the smartphone market begins to reach saturation (and some would argue design stagnation) tech companies are increasingly intrigued by the idea of wearable devices. In particular the Kickstarter-financed Pebble smartwatch, the success of various fitness bands, and of course the long standing rumours that Apple is working on such a device, have seen many companies start work on their own smartwatch and wearable projects. It's not just watches either; Google has also been testing out its Google Glass device with a set of early users.

But while tech companies are excited it's still not certain that consumers are; 'Glassholes' has become a term of abuse, and many smartwatches have struggled to get much traction beyond the early adopter stage. Larry Dignan has some thoughts on the challenges to Android when it comes to wearables here.

Motorola has said that its 'Moto 360' smartwatch will be available in the summer, in the US at first. "With just a twist of the wrist you can see who’s emailing or calling, what time your next meeting is or a friend’s latest social post," the company said.

Further reading

Editorial standards