Google on Tuesday unveiled plans to help develop the watches and
other wearable computers based on its Android mobile operating
system, which already runs more than three out of four smartphones
The Android Wear project is open to software makers to create apps
for the watches, putting Google at the forefront of efforts to
jumpstart the nascent wearable computing market.
The news comes as speculation swirls around iPhone-maker Apple Inc's
plans for wearable computers, including a smartwatch of its own.
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has promised new "product categories"
later this year.
A video posted on Google's blog on Tuesday showed people speaking
into their watches to check sports scores, control music, send
replies to text messages and even open their home garages.
By aligning itself with a broad spectrum of partners to develop the
smartwatches, Google is hoping to replicate the success that helped
make its free Android software the most popular smartphone operating
system, analysts said.
LG Electronics said on Tuesday it would introduce its first Android
watch, the G Watch, in the second quarter. Motorola said its Moto
360 Android watch would be available this summer. Fossil Group Inc,
which makes watches, handbags and other accessories, also announced
that it was working with Google on Android devices.
Many believe wearable computers represent the next big shift in
technology, just as smartphones evolved from personal computers, but
efforts by various companies so far have had mixed results.
Samsung was among the first to sell a smartwatch for consumers, but
its maiden effort, the Galaxy Gear, was widely panned by reviewers.
Google's announcement "definitely gives wearables a status that it's
a market in its own right and it needs to be treated with the
respect that a separate operating system branch gives it," said
Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Kantar World Panel.
Android smartwatches will connect wirelessly to a mobile phone and
can be outfitted with a variety of sensors, Google said. That means
that apps developed for Android watches will be able to monitor
fitness and health information such as a wearer's heart rate or
Google released an Android Wear Developer Preview on Tuesday, saying
it would allow software makers to begin creating specialized apps
for the watches.
Google has also been developing Google Glass, a small stamp-sized
screen attached to a pair of eyeglass frames. Google Glass can
record video, access email, provide turn-by-turn driving directions
and retrieve info from the Web by connecting wirelessly to a user's
cell phone, but it has also raised concerns ranging from privacy
intrusions to distracted driving.
Smartwatches have a better chance of catching on with the general
public than Google Glass, said Ramon Llamas, an analyst with
industry research firm IDC.
"It's a really cool idea, but there's something that creeps people
out about it," Llamas said of Google Glass.
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The success of smartwatches will depend on the device's price,
battery life and the appeal of the watches' designs, he said.
Motorola said it would share more details about its forthcoming Moto
360 smartwatch when it holds a special online press conference on
Wednesday. Google recently announced plans to sell its Motorola
business to Chinese PC-maker Lenovo Group Ltd.
Juniper Research expects more than 130 million smart wearable
devices will ship by 2018. Moreover, global shipments of wearable
"smart glasses" alone will reach 10 million each year by 2018,
compared with an estimated 87,000 in 2013, according to the research
MUST HAVE OR NICE TO HAVE?
Google, whose projects range from self-driving cars to robots,
likely sees smartwatches as part of the future evolution of
computing, said Raymond James analyst Aaron Kessler. But he said it
remained to be seen whether smartwatches will become an
indispensable digital accessory or a "nice-to-have" gadget.
"At this point I would still view it as a niche product," he said.
Among the more than 10 companies that are partnering with Google on
Android watches are Samsung Electronics Co, HTC Corp, Asustek
Computer Inc, Intel Corp, Qualcomm Inc, Broadcom Corp and Mediatek
Qualcomm and its manufacturing customers are working on "multiple"
wearable devices based on its Snapdragon processors, spokesman Jon
Carvill said. He declined to elaborate.
"We've barely scratched the surface of what's possible with mobile
technology," Google said in a post on its official blog on Tuesday.
"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."
Shares of Google closed 1.6 percent higher at $1,211.22 on Tuesday.
Shares of Fossil Group rose 4.6 percent to $118.04.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic with additional reporting by Noel
Randewich, editing by Franklin Paul, Sofina Mirza-Reid and Richard
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