Google wants to get Android wearable computing devices into the lives of more consumers and is launching a new “Android Wear” effort to help make it happen, starting with new developer tools to build smartwatches.
The new initiative was announced today by Sundar Pichai, the head of Google’s Android, Chrome and Apps divisions, in a post on the Google Official Blog.
“Most of us are rarely without our smartphones in hand,” wrote Pichai. “These powerful supercomputers keep us connected to the world and the people we love. But we’re only at the beginning; we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with mobile technology.
“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,” he continued.
To expand those possibilities today, Google’s new Android Wear project, which will provide new application-building tools and technologies for developers, will begin by promoting new possibilities for smartwatches, he wrote.
For developers, Google Android has added a new section on developer.android.com/wear, which is focused on wearable device development, wrote Pichai. “Starting today, you can download a Developer Preview so you can tailor your existing app notifications for watches powered by Android Wear. Because Android for wearables works with Android’s rich notification system, many apps will already work well.”
More wearables-aimed developer resources and APIs will be coming soon on the site, he wrote.
And to make it happen more successfully, Google and Android are “already working with several consumer electronics manufacturers, including Asus, HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung; chip makers Broadcom, Imagination, Intel, Mediatek and Qualcomm; and fashion brands like the Fossil Group to bring you watches powered by Android Wear later this year,” wrote Pichai.
By starting the promotion of Android Wearables using watches initially, Google and Android will be working with a fashion accessory that is already accepted and widely used by consumers, but is still ripe for further new development and capabilities, he wrote.
Smartwatches will go “well beyond the mere act of just telling you the time,” he wrote. “Android Wear shows you info and suggestions you need, right when you need them. The wide variety of Android applications means you’ll 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.”
Users will also be able to gain capabilities with smartwatches, such as saying “OK Google” to ask questions about just about any topic to get an answer, he wrote. Users will also be able to better monitor their exercise regimens with distance measurements, timing and detailed summaries, as well as use their Android Wear-enabled devices to access and control other devices from their wrists. “Just say ‘OK Google’ to fire up a music playlist on your phone, or cast your favorite movie to your TV,” wrote Pichai. “There’s a lot of possibilities here, so we’re eager to see what developers build.”
Google’s Plan: Android Wearable Computers for Everyone
Interestingly, Google earlier this month announced the upcoming release of a new Android software development kit (SDK) that will give developers the tools to build applications for a wide range of wearable devices that will run on Android. The move was aimed at laying the groundwork for smartwatches running on Android, as well as for other devices that are still in the imaginations of developers. As more companies build wearable devices, Google would love to see them use Android as the operating system.
Google has been experimenting quite a bit with wearable technologies such as its Google Glass devices, which give wearers the ability to use a computer and a wide range of apps during their daily lives as they commute, eat, relax and work.
In February, Virgin Atlantic Airways began a test of Google Glass to see how it and similar wearable computing innovations could help the airline assist passengers from their arrival at an airport through boarding and departure, and even with their in-flight experiences. The airline’s six-week-long Google Glass pilot project has been visible to passengers as they arrive at London Heathrow airport, where concierge staff in the airline’s Upper Class Wing are using Google Glass and other wearable technology to ramp up their customer service efforts.
After the pilot testing is completed, the airline will review the experiment to see if it is something it would like to expand in the future.
Virgin’s testing with Glass came on the heels of a related experiment with Glass by the New York Police Department, which began trials in December to see how the devices could be used in police work. The devices have not yet been deployed in any actual field or patrol operations, but reviews are being done to see how they may be used in the future, according to the department. The news that the NYPD is investigating possible uses for Google Glass is intriguing on its face, particularly because of several high-profile incidents involving the digital eyewear in the last six months.
Google Glass has been a topic of conversation among techies since news of it first arrived in 2012. The first Google Glass units began shipping in April 2013 to developers who signed up at the June 2012 Google I/O conference to buy an early set for $1,500 for testing and development; it was the hit of the conference.
At the same time, Google Glass is gaining some traditional acceptance in the marketplace, even before its official launch to consumers, which is expected sometime this year. In January 2014, Google announced a deal with eyewear and vision insurer VSP Global, which will cover a portion of Google Glass frames and prescription lenses for its insurance customers.