Google has announced a new smartwatch platform called Android Wear, which offers it a way to help OEM partners come up with hardware to get users into wearable devices. Among the first such devices will be the LG G Watch, a device which will launch next quarter based on the new platform. It showcases key features of the Android UI extension, including always-on voice commands that respond to the now-familiar “Ok Google.” Other partners will debut hardware later this year, Google says.
Android Wear is starting with smartwatches, but is also meant to eventually extend to other wearables, according to Google. It’s designed to be an extension of Google Now in many ways, with timely updates and suggestions provided to you as you need them most. It’ll also answer spoken questions directly, thanks to the above-mentioned always-on listening for requests prompted by the “Ok Google” command. Things you can ask for include requests about flight times, making reservations, sending texts and more.
In addition to notices and timely contextual information, Google is also focusing on health and fitness, with apps that provide goals, reminders and progress tracking for fitness routines, as well as real-time feedback. The smartwatch platform Google has created also centers on multi-screen control, making it so that you can issue commands to your wrist to control apps on connected devices. Google also mentions “cast” ability, so expect this to play nice with its Chromecast streamer hardware.
LG is a key launch partner for Android Wear, which is in keeping with what we’d heard about the company’s smartwatch plans previously. The smartphone maker has built the G Watch, which is expected to launch next quarter, and which LG is hoping will help it leapfrog others in this market (read: Samsung) by providing a low barrier to entry for developers, who don’t have to learn a new language or build from scratch to design software for Android Wear, unlike for Tizen.
Motorola is also a key launch partner, with a summer launch for its Moto 360, which already begins to show how different OEMs will have different takes on what to do with Android Wear.
Google is making a preview SDK available now for Android developers, which is designed to make it easy to build extensions to existing smartphone Android apps that work with Android Wear, rather than for building standalone apps. Other early hardware partners include Asus, HTC, Motorola, Samsung, Fossil and more.
The preview SDK includes an emulator to show you devs how their notifications will look on an Android Wear device, with either square or round screens, and includes APIs that allow you to customize notifications to receive voice replies, showcase additional page content and stack with other, like notifications (meaning you can perhaps browse Wear notifications by type, i.e. all text-based messages stacked).
This is a natural direction for Google to go in with Android, and the execution as it stands currently looks very heavy on the Google Now features, but with a focus on extending rather than replacing the smartphone experience. That’s the approach taken by Pebble, too, with its heavily notification-based smartwatch platform, and quite different from earlier attempts like the Sony Smartwatch and Smartwatch 2, which haven’t managed to really nail real-time information and updates, and other approaches that have targeted watch-specific standalone software (the first Galaxy Gear was somewhat guilty of this).
At this stage, we’re still looking mostly at Google stretching its legs with wearables and trying to teach partners what they can do with this kind of device. Accordingly, I’d look to this first generation of Android Wear hardware as a group of devices trying to find its feet, with more refined gadgets to follow down the road.