Google on Tuesday officially announced Android Wear, its initiative and operating system for wearables that we first learned about from sources during Mobile World Congress last month. As the company’s demonstration videos explain, Android Wear is probably going to make its debut on smartwatches, though as we all know the use cases could be potentially limitless.
What is Android Wear?
So far as we can tell, it’s a set of Android-based tools for Google partners to create that sort of functionality for consumers. The focus of Android Wear, at first, is clearly to give you alerts from your smartphone on your wrist. That means using Google Now for information on the weather, traffic along your commute, messages from Google Hangouts, sports scores, information on your flight and more. You’ll be able to use your voice to ask Google Now questions and respond to text messages, eliminating a need to remove your Android smartphone from your pocket.
Who Will Use Android Wear?
We know LG and Motorola are already partnering with Google to develop smartwatches that takes advantage of Android Wear, Motorola’s is dubbed the Moto 360. Google is probably working with several other partners – however – and one rumor suggested HTC is among them.
That means that Google is following its Android strategy in this case: provide the software (or license it) and let partners build the hardware. It leaves the door open for several firms to create smartwatches, especially those who don’t already have a platform to work with.
Pebble has its own operating system already, but it could potentially toy around with Android Wear and combine the software with its existing experience in the market – and developer partnerships – to make something even more powerful. Samsung probably won’t join in, at least not initially, since it already has a Tizen-based smartphone operating system. But consider Lenovo – which is in the midst of acquiring Motorola Mobility from Google – Acer, Asus, Huawei, ZTE and other firms, all of which could take advantage of Android Wear to move even quicker into the wearable space without spending their own cash on software development costs.
What about Google Glass?
The first question that crossed my mind when Google made the Android Wear announcement was: wait a second, what about Google Glass? Google has spent a lot of time and money creating Glass, its first wearable, and building out developer partnerships. Glass, it seemed, was going to be the next big thing in wearables, so long as Google could get the costs down. But now, I’m not so sure.
Google Glass in its current form will set you back $1,500. It’s prone to breaking, which makes it an even more expensive investment, and it’s intrusive in some ways. It’s intrusive in that it has to sit over your eyeball, and I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in where folks are asked to turn off or remove Glass completely, for fear that the cameras will capture sensitive data.
Glass, too, relies on information from Google Now. With Android Wear, however, you don’t need to spend $1,500 and you don’t need to put something on your head. Instead, you’ll have something as non-intrusive as a watch. Sure, we don’t know what Google’s partners will charge for the first smartwatches that use Android Wear just yet, but we know that smartwatches tend to cost around $150 to $300, a far cry from the $1,500 Glass currently costs.
So my question now is, will Android Wear cannibalize all of the work Google has put into Glass? Google Now on the wrist seems a lot more attractive to me and, probably, to the general public who has so far shied away from Glass. It’s a lot easier to ask someone to buy a smart wristband that feels familiar instead of telling them to put something on their head that requires a line of sight. In other words: why does Google Glass need to exist at all anymore?
I get it: there are people among us who want the appearance of the cyborg future. I don’t think Google will kill off Glass, but I do think Android Wearables are going to be a lot more popular among consumers. If I were a developer working on Google Glass, I’d probably cease all operations and put all of my energy into Android Wear app development. There’s going to be a larger consumer base to buy your apps, and probably sooner rather than later.
Next Steps for Android Wear
As we’ve reported earlier, we’ll see Google’s first Android Wear products from partners surface during Google I/O. That means, at the very least, we’ll see LG’s smartwatch and the Motorola 360. For the first time, we’ll see how well the devices really work. And it will be particularly important for Google to distinguish the differences between what it sees as the future of augmented reality and heads-up-displays (Google Glass) and smartwaches (Android Wear). Is there a difference?
Google I/O kicks off in June, and I’m sure there’s a lot more to learn between now and then.