Meet Android Wear: Google’s new OS for smartwatches

Google's polished vision for a smartwatch
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By Nikhil Subramaniam /  20 Mar 2014 , 09:52

So this is Google’s vision for a smartwatch and we love what we see. Android Wear brings the refinement of the Google’s card-based design language and the power of Google Now to your wrist in what looks and sounds like a fantastic product.

Google says LG, Motorola, Asus, Samsung, HTC, Intel, Qualcomm, Fossil and MediaTek have all signed up as hardware and manufacturing partners for Android Wear and we are likely to see an array of Android-powered smartwatches later this year. LG and Motorola have seemingly got the jump on the competition. LG will launch its G Watch in the summer, along with Motorola, whose Moto 360, looks like a gift from the smartwatch heavens.

But before we get taken over by devices and specs, let’s look at what Android Wear is and what Google thinks a smartwatch should be about. We have already touched upon some of the things that we would like to see in a smartwatch. Ideally, we had said, we want a smartwatch that harnesses the power of Google Now and its contextually-aware, location-based goodness. Google has delivered on that front.

Android Wear is Google Now shrunk down to work and fit on a smaller device with not as much power as a full-fledged Android phone. In that sense, Android Wear is an extension of Google Now, with Google Cloud Notification acting as a second pillar in the OS. It will also have all the relevant sensors to deliver fitness-related data that are an indispensable aspect of wearables.

In terms of design and UI, Google has brought refinement and colour to the smartwatch UI. Samsung’s Gear UI from last year was very monotonous albeit minimalist, but there are bright elements in Google’s UI that should make your day slightly more cheerful, even if there’s a traffic jam delaying you. And then there’s the typical Google flair for sliding animations when using gestures. It all looks very slick. What we don’t know is what kind of hardware it will require to run smoothly.

“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,” Sundar Pichai, SVP, Android, Chrome & Apps, said in a blog post introducing the OS.

Google outlined some of the key features of Android Wear, though the possibilities remain just as endless as Android apps and features, since the base is still the same as any other Android device. A lot of emphasis is on the hotword “Ok Google” that will act as the gateway to your smartwatch. In neither of the promo videos did we see a glimpse of a software keyboard, but we did see swipes and taps to interact. Even so voice-based interaction will be the primary mode of interaction, as can be expected.

Google says you will get straight answers to spoken questions such as the number of calories in a mango or the departure time for your flight or even the latest score in a match when you can’t watch it live. “Say “Ok Google” to get stuff done, like calling a taxi, sending a text, making a restaurant reservation or setting an alarm,” Pichai wrote.

With Android Wear, Google says fitness apps will be able to deliver real-time data to your wrist, so you can decide whether to step it up or slow down. Finally, an Android Wear device would be able to access and control other devices tethered to it, including changing the music, or casting a YouTube video or any other compatible app to your Chromecast-connected TV.

Google Now's card-based UI translated for a smaller screen
Google Now’s card-based UI translated for a smaller screen

Starting today, developers and enthusiasts can get the Developer Preview for Android Wear to start working on apps and features. Many apps reportedly work very well. As this Google+ community page for Android Wear developers shows, there’s already quite a lot of apps that work out of the box, including Play Music. As Google opens up the Android Wear SDK, we expect a lot more native features to come in, just as they did for Glass.

We will find out more about Android Wear as the release date of devices comes closer, and Google is sure to make more APIs available as software development moves forward. But from what little we have been shown so far, it’s quite close to how we want our smartwatches to be.


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