The Google Smartwatch Is Real, And It’s Coming Soon (But Maybe Not Too Soon)

Google’s long-rumored smartwatch is real, and still “officially” expected to begin shipping in mid to late March. However, many members of the smartwatch team inside Google believe that date will either be pushed back to June, or the watch will end up shipping incomplete with a smaller feature set than originally intended. As it stands now, the timeline for the watch’s release is far from being set in stone.

The smartwatch prototypes are currently on lockdown in a Google building, under high security, and they’re not able to be taken out for fear that news will leak. (Oops.)

According to people familiar with the matter, an early prototype of the watch had a Pebble Steel-like metal band, square face, and a colorful digital display featuring a gradient background where colors gently fade from one to the next. It also seemed to have a more masculine vibe, also like the Pebble Steel.

But we’re hearing now that Google has settled on shipping a watch with a plastic band instead for the initial release. The band was one of many concepts the company was exploring. Like the previous prototype, the watch has a full-color display, with an LCD background that basically looks “like a cheap smartphone,” we’re told, which is capable of displaying a full-color image.

The whole idea behind the watch’s concept is that you shouldn’t have to take out your phone for various ambient alerts, like finding out who’s calling you or who just texted, for example.

The watch’s software supports notifications made possible through Bluetooth LE pairing with Android smartphones. It doesn’t sound like it’s yet capable of enabling a range of apps like Pebble’s watch does today. Third-party developers may be able to build for the watch at a later point following future updates.

Interactions with the watch are very gesture-driven. That is, swiping alerts and tapping to select.

Like others, including The Wall St. Journal, we’ve been hearing rumors of the forthcoming Google smartwatch for many months now. The WSJ had also previously reported that the watch will support “Google Now” alerts, which is a type of default notification on newer Android smartphones which includes personalized information like weather, traffic, events, meeting alerts, flight times, dinner reservations, sports scores, stock updates, reminders and more.

Development for the watch is being led by a team inside Google that includes designers from the Android team. That makes sense because the watch is being viewed as an accessory – an additive – to the Android phone, rather than being a standalone wearable device that others (including, say, iPhone users) might buy.

Interest in wearables has been heating up, with some analysts predicting the smart band segment alone will reach 8 million shipments in 2014, growing to more than 23 million units by 2015, and over 45 million by 2017. In addition to Pebble, top Android device maker Samsung also launched its own smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear. But Galaxy Gear reviews have been tepid at best, and the return rate on the watch is reportedly high. Apple is also rumored to be working on an “iWatch” of sorts, whose focus will be more so on health tracking, according to reports.

The problem with many of the current devices today include limited battery life and feature sets – things that could improve over time but may turn off a wider range of consumers in wearables’ earlier days.

Illustration by Bryce Durbin