With the launch today of Android Wear Google has made what could be its most important move to date in the wearable space.
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Sure Glass has been the locus of its wearable focus until now, and people are doing incredibly cool things with it, but an operating system made specifically for wearables could see it dominate the space even more thoroughly than it has smartphones.
As per the official blog post announcing its launch, Android Wear is Google’s attempt to extend the Android experience into the world of wearables, starting with smartwatches.
The Mountain View-based tech giant says that one of the reasons it’s so excited about wearables is because “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”.
Now, it may seem odd that it’s launching such a major product in the smartwatch category — a part of the wearable spectrum that it hasn’t really shown much interest in. And you could hardly blame Google if it chose to stay as far away from smartwatches as possible. After all, Samsung and Sony’s solo efforts in the space have hardly set the world on fire.
But here’s the thing: it is having a go at cracking the smartwatch, and wearable, space and it has a serious chance of cracking it. Here’s why.
It’s all about context
Let’s revisit that statement about why Google’s excited about getting into the wearable space shall we? “They understand the context of the world around you…” Context is seriously important to Google.
If you ignore the creeping loss of privacy, that’s something that’s beneficial to both it and its consumers. You and I get to be more efficient in our day-to-day tasks and in exchange Google gets to target ads and services at us far more effectively.
Think about what it’s been able to do with just the information that we give it from our PCs and smartphones, now imagination what it’ll be able to do with an operating system running on smartwatches, fitness trackers and other emerging wearable categories.
Google actually hints at this in its Android Wear announcement when it says that devices running Android Wear will allow you to “receive the latest posts and updates from your favorite social apps, chats from your preferred messaging apps, notifications from shopping, news and photography apps, and more”.
It has the hardware partners
Shortly after announcing the launch of Android Wear, it was revealed that the first watch to run Android Wear would be the Motorola 360 (along with the LG G Watch).
Yes Google recently sold off Motorola to Lenovo, but the deal came with a chunk of Lenovo shares for Google, so we can expect it to remain a (fairly) loyal hardware partner for some time to come.
LG meanwhile has been Google’s favoured hardware partner on its Nexus range of late, so it’s probably not going to step too far away from Android any time soon either.
These companies and others like them aren’t just sticking with Android because Google’s very big and can roar very loudly. As a platform Android has proven its worth. There’s a reason it holds the lion’s share of the global smartphone market and it’s not because it has a cute mascot.
Entering the wearable space with an OS (based on its already successful smartphone and tablet OS) simply doesn’t represent the same kind of risk as Android’s founders faced when they first brought it kicking and screaming into the world.
Look, even the staunchest Apple fan would admit that Google’s integration across its products is pretty slick. If you have Gmail address, you can pretty much use any Android device and control at least certain aspects of them from any desktop, laptop or Mac.
When Google promises that Android Wear will allow you to access and control other devices from your wrist, we’re inclined to nod and say “OK Google”, because in all likelihood it will. Moreover, it seems likely that it will do so better than the native software on the Galaxy Gear for instance.
It’s stolen a march on Apple
If and when Apple launches its fabled iWatch, it will most likely run a modified version of iOS. At that point, Apple will also have an ecosystem that includes wearables. But right now it doesn’t.
This time it, rather than its competitors, will be playing catch up. Sure most independently made wearables are designed to play nicely with iDevices (understandable given that a large portion of them are made in developed markets where Apple still holds strong) but they don’t give you direct access to the ecosystem.
Right now, it’s advantage Google; it just has to make sure it doesn’t double-fault.