Google takes consumers' wrists to next frontier with Android watch

SAN FRANCISCO Tue Mar 18, 2014 7:54pm EDT

1 of 2. A Moto 360 smartwatch is seen in this Motorola Mobility LLC handout image released to Reuters on March 18, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Motorola Mobility, LLC/Handout via Reuters

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Voice-controlled smartwatches that track heart rates and connect to phones and tablets will debut later this year as Google Inc partners with electronics, technology and fashion companies to take consumers to the next promised frontier in computing.

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 sold worldwide.

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 distance jogged.

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.

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 firm.


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 Inc.

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 Chang)

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Comments (6)
Accessories in general have a lot of possibility/potential.
As an after thought… with smartphones now ranging anywhere from
$200-$2000 or thereabouts, Bluetooth accessories that are discrete and serve to inform when the item leaves your radius/perimeter at a certain distance would be interesting to be a perhaps bundle incentive or aftermarket option (either miniscule to not be eye catching or fashion conscious – integration with watches or perhaps necklace pendant etc / female earrings, etc who knows).
Pre-empting the need for GPS locating a stolen item.
IE. A man goes out with his smartphone in a jacket, or a woman same, or in purse etc.
If the phone is taken and leaves a radius, a subtle vibration gives instant notification that the Bluetooth has lost the tether to the device.
As copy/pasted from Bluetooth’s website for possible settings:
•Class 3 radios – have a range of up to 1 meter or 3 feet
•Class 2 radios – most commonly found in mobile devices – have a range of 10 meters or 33 feet
•Class 1 radios – used primarily in industrial use cases – have a range of 100 meters or 300 feet

So the possibility of integrating one, two, or three different radios with distinctive perimeter detection could easily be theoretically implemented.

•Class 3 radios – have a range of up to 1 meter or 3 feet
- Ideal for situations when at meetings, or a night out.

•Class 2 radios – most commonly found in mobile devices – have a range of 10 meters or 33 feet
- Ideal for situations around a static workplace, or venues

•Class 1 radios – used primarily in industrial use cases – have a range of 100 meters or 300 feet
- Ideal for if the device leaves the immediate area where a person is roaming constantly (home, work building itself, etc).

This would potentially if utilizing class 1 or 2, notify right away of a person walking away (probably in a hurry, easily spotted in most situations), or in the class 3 scenario – notify to jump on the laptop/desktop right away to get a GPS lock.

Interesting possibilities nonetheless.

Mar 18, 2014 3:43pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
As per last comment issued regarding the possibility of Bluetooth accessories in terms of potential security perimeter notifications -
We have to take a look beyond the Bluetooth “earpiece”. This is an item worn mainly by those that rely solely on incoming and outgoing voice calls.
With “mobile devices” now making the transition of being used much more for data purposes (adding to the value of maintaining location of the product), the need for instant notification via a simple solution is coming into play.
Cite for statistical purposes:

It’s just simply a better layer if implemented properly that is missing for the most part currently en masse.

Mar 18, 2014 4:09pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Kahnie wrote:
Dick Tracy and the video watch of the 1940′s lives!

Mar 18, 2014 11:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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