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Google Just Upped the Ante in the Wearables Game


Google announces Android Wear, its version of Android made specifically for wearables, and takes the smartwatch conversation to a whole new level.

As the world grows more impatient for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to finally reveal its entry in the wearables arena, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) just took the smartwatch conversation to a whole new level.

The company has announced Android Wear, a version of its mobile OS designed specifically for wearables, and released a Developer Preview for download. Sporting a simplified look that remains feature-rich, Android Wear provides the typical searches, actions, and location-aware notifications in the recognizable "card style" found in Google Now and allows the user to control them via tap, swipe, or voice command. Although no Android Wear devices are available as of yet, Google gave us a taste of how Android Wear smartwatches may look and act when they're released later this year.

Stemming from its approach with Google Glass, Google appears to have created a platform that doesn't attempt to replace the smartphone but rather acts as a convenient, at-a-glance supplement to our daily routine. However, as the company indicated in its blog post, the mobile OS will allow for a wide variety of apps and access to the services we're all familiar with, providing "the maximum payload of information with a minimum of fuss, optimized to provide tiny snippets of relevant information throughout the day." In other words, a device that can be just as powerful and versatile as our smartphones, but in a "too long; didn't read" approach. To that end, it's not yet clear whether the first round of devices will require a Bluetooth link to a smartphone in order to operate or if they can fully function on their own as stand-alone devices.

But what we can expect is a handy and stylish link to information and communication. As indicated in the video above, Android Wear does searches, messaging, mapping, navigation, location-aware notifications, Songza-style song recognition, flight information, fitness summaries (including calories burned), and much more. However, the key to Android Wear's success is what Google hasn't yet implemented or even thought to anticipate. Given the open platform and newly released Developer Preview, Android designer Alex Faaborg said, "This is just wide-open blue-sky territory for people."

With the official Android Wear SDK still months away from release, developers can test out the platform's basic functionality such as voice replies, notification pages, and message stacking. For more fancy features like custom UIs, voice actions, and controls that rely on a devices sensors, designers will have to wait patiently.

As for partnerships with manufacturers, Android Wear has quite a few lined up. Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF), Asus, HTC (TPE:2498), Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), LG, and Motorola have smartwatches underway that take advantage of the OS. Motorola also gave a preview of its Moto 360, a sleek smartwatch that sports a round display, a particularly difficult design scheme according to the developers in the preview video.

This announcement has undeniably upped the ante to the wearables game. Whereas Google Glass was a flashy show of force, a heads-up display isn't going to be a hit with a more demure crowd. Current smartwatches, such as the Pebble and Galaxy Gear, are suitable entries in their own right, but they don't benefit from an OS designed specifically for their form factors. With Android Wear, however, the platform will unify future wearables to a cohesive and recognizable UI, allowing for greater support and better functionality.

If the pressure was on for Apple to blow us away with a new product line, Android Wear just put even more incentive on Cupertino to deliver the goods.
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