After being teased during a panel held during South by Southwest’s Interactive conference last week by Sundar Pichai, Google has formally announced Android Wear, a version of the Android operating system that will start with watches and eventually move on to other designs and products meant for wearable devices. Google’s immediate vision for wearable products and watches in particular includes basic functionality and is focused on notifications.
Google’s pitch is that smart wearables should provide useful information when the wearer needs it, such as posts, social network updates, and messaging notifications as needed. Google also thinks wearables should also be able to answer questions on the fly by using “OK Google” to trigger functionality and to that end, Google’s Android-based wearables will include Google Now, its voice-controlled search assistant, for performing searches and issuing commands. Android Wear will also give people a way to monitor their health and fitness, improving upon current rudimentary health and fitness functionality found in smartphones.
Android Wear will also let users access and control other devices such as music players, phones and TVs through Google Now functionality. Developers interested in developing for Android Wear compatibility can sign up to participate in a developer preview that is already live and developers will be able to customize their app notifications for watches powered by Android Wear.
Google has also promised more resources, including APIs that will be available to developers soon outside of today’s preview. Google also confirmed that it is working with Asus, HTC, LG, Motorola, and Samsung to create Android Wear-based watches, all slated to begin release later this year starting in the second quarter.
That Google is announcing yet another Android fork specifically devoted to wearables following its long-term experiment with Glass means that the search giant sees a viable market for an Android-powered platform to ease the development of such products as well as giving manufacturers a more familiar environment for developing software around those products that won’t require separate compatibility layers or heavy customization, as with previous attempts in Android smartwatches, such as Motorola’s MOTOACTV and Samsung’s much-maligned first generation Android-powered Galaxy Gear smartwatch.
The timing of the confirmation of Android Wear should also be noticed, as Samsung has recently announced two new smartwatches in the Gear 2 and Gear Neo, both powered by its own Tizen platform rather than Android. Perhaps Google sees anything related to Tizen as a concern now and is rushing to release another platform in order to keep the other OEMs happy. As of today, developer previews are now available for Android Wear, with more specific announcements coming soon. Below, a developer video detailing Android Wear and its basic functionality.
Another video showcasing ideal Android Wear functionality for end users:
Finally, manufacturers such as Qualcomm, Intel, Broadcom, Imagination and Mediatek have announced full support and backing for Android wear on both the hardware and chipset side, with venerable watchmaker Fossil also pledging support for the platform as the only fashion brand on board.