Skift Take

Will this second big move from Google in wearables space have more mainstream usage, beyond the awkward use cases of Google Glass so far? And by the same token, will it have more immediate use in the travel information sector?

Google Inc. on Tuesday announced the initial availability of its Android Wear operating system, a version of its framework for mobile devices that is designed specifically for wearable technology such as smart watches and allows for voice control of the technology.

The first Android Wear release is aimed solely at smart watches, which have become more popular in the past year as Pebble, FitBit and Samsung have introduced watches that connect to smartphones and offer instant information on a user’s wrist. Google expects to have Android-powered smart watches on the market by the end of the year, and is working with several electronics manufacturers, including Motorola and Samsung; chipmakers such as Intel and Broadcom; and the Fossil Group and other fashion brands.

The most interesting twist in Tuesday’s announcement was a focus on voice controls for smart watches, with Sundar Pichai, Google’s executive in charge of Android and Chrome, emphasizing the ability to use the keywords “OK Google” to launch an array of possible commands for the software to follow.

“Just say ‘OK Google’ to ask questions, like how many calories are in an avocado, what time your flight leaves, and the score of the game,” Pichai wrote in a blog post. “Or say ‘OK Google’ to get stuff done, like calling a taxi, sending a text, making a restaurant reservation or setting an alarm.”

Pichai, who announced a developer preview of Android Wear in the blog post, also said that users could give voice commands to a smart watch that would activate other connected devices, such as a smartphone or Chromecast, which streams digital content to a user’s television screen.

Analysts are optimistic about Google’s ability to perform in the wearables space with Android, which has stolen the market share lead from Apple’s iOS mobile operating system in smartphones and tablets.

Google’s announcement has the potential to “push wearable technology into mainstream acceptance. It can’t do anything but accelerate an already fast-moving space,” Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst in Forrester’s application development and delivery group, told the San Jose Mercury News last week.

The potential for wearables is huge, many analysts believe. IDC analyst Al Hilwa predicts “the era of wearables (will) see its heyday beginning in the first half of 2015,” while Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry said last week, “The world could be very different six to eight months from now” because of wearables.

But Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst with TECHnalysis Research, was wary that Google’s success with Android-based smartphones and tablets can be translated into wearable devices because of the challenges of converting smartphone technology into something as small as a wristwatch.

“Most watches are less than 2 inches diagonally that you look at several feet from your eyes,” O’Donnell said. “With something that’s that dramatically cut down, you cannot possibly leverage any existing applications. You have to start completely from scratch. It’s going to be a completely different animal than Android.”


(Dan Nakaso of the San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.)

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Tags: android, google, wearables