Google determined to port Android to wearables

Guy Daniels
By Guy Daniels

Mar 19, 2014

Samsung’s Tizen operating system may well be dead and buried when it comes to smartphones, but it was given a new lease of live last month when Samsung surprised the industry by using it to power the second generation of its Gear smartwatches. But Google was never likely to cede the potentially lucrative wearables market to another platform.

Hence the arrival of Android Wear, a project that Google says will extend the Android OS to wearables. And show it means business, it has already partnered with Motorola (obviously) and others to use Android Wear in the next generation of smart watches. There are some tantalising previews of the Moto 360 watch, which actually looks like a real watch (surely a first for smart watches from tech firms, Pebble’s Steel being the exception).

“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,” said Sundar Pichai, SVP for Android, Chrome & Apps. “We’re also 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.”

Pichai says that future smart watches will go “well beyond the mere act of just telling you the time”, and that a range of new devices along with an expansive catalogue of apps will provide timely (pun intended) information, instant answers to spoken questions, better monitoring of your health and fitness, and wrist access to your other smart devices. In other words, they provide a touch and audio interface for an Android smartphone.

Developers can download a preview from Google’s website, to enable them to tailor their existing app notifications for watches powered by Android Wear, which uses Android's rich notification system. But what is interesting is that it appears that developers are still restricted to writing their apps for the phone – the watch is a Google-controlled interface that essentially runs Google Now cards, the application of Google’s Knowledge Graph that the internet firm is pushing heavily.

Google gets loads more apps for its Google Now service, which means loads more data, which means Google knows even more about you and is even better at predicting what you want to search for. Now there’s a pleasant thought.

In other news, Google also announced that its Chromecast HDMI dongle is available outside of the US. Eleven additional countries (Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK) can now buy the device – £30 in the UK – which features localised app support. For example, UK users can watch BBC iPlayer, in France TV there’s Pluzz and SFR TV, and Germany has Watchever.

The Chromecast dongle displays content streams from the Internet via WiFi, initated by a smartphone or tablet. Google says that since it opened Chromecast to developers a few weeks ago, more than 3,000 developers worldwide have signed up to bring their apps and websites to Chromecast. Again though, as with Android Wear, all the smarts are in the smartphone or tablet (or laptop), with the dongle merely acting as the interface.

There’s a trend emerging here…

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