Android Stomps Into Wearables Field
It appears Google wants to do for smartwatches what it did for smartphones -- that is, make a mobile operating system available to devs to tinker with as they see fit. Apple may have its iWatch, but Android Wear is likely to power a plethora of devices dreamed up by other hardware vendors. Motorola, LG and Samsung are among those that reportedly have Android Wear devices in the works.
Google on Wednesday released a developer preview for Android Wear, a day after announcing the project, which Android head honcho Sunder Pichai teased at SXSW earlier this month.
The preview, which includes a software development kit, an Android emulator and a preview support library, is for development and testing only -- not for production apps.
Developers will have to rewrite their Android apps, Carl Howe, a vice president at the Yankee Group, told LinuxInsider.
Some smartwatches, such as the Pebble, run both Android and iOS, but "that doesn't mean anything," Howe pointed out. "You can't go to the app store and download an app, [because] smartwatches are such a different form factor and work so differently."
Google's Vision for Android Wear
Apps written for Android Wear will provide notifications from a variety of applications, ranging from social to chat to shopping, news and photography.
Users will be able to ask questions or launch apps, as well as access and control other devices, using the familiar "OK, Google" voice command.
Many apps already are compatible with Android Wear because it works with Android's notification system, Google said.
Google partners for Android Wear-powered watches set to debut later this year include consumer electronics manufacturers Motorola, Asus, HTC, LG and Samsung; chip makers Broadcom, Qualcomm, Mediatek, Intel and Imagination; and fashion brands including the Fossil Group.
"They're promising a product this summer, but these things have a tendency to drag on," remarked Howe. "We don't have a product yet -- we have slides."
What Devs Get
The developer preview lets devs run the Android Wear platform in the Android emulator; connect an Android device to the emulator and view notifications from it as cards on Android Wear; and try new APIs in the preview support library.
Devs must install the Android SDK before signing up for the preview. They have to sign up with a Gmail or other Google account to download the preview support library and get access to the preview beta app in the Google Play store.
Devs using the ADT plugin for Eclipse must upgrade to version 22.6.1 or higher.
Their version of Android SDK Tools must be 22.6 or higher.
Devs should keep the "Hardware Keyboard present" feature selected in the Android Wear emulator so they can provide text input on screens.
The Android Wear Preview app is compatible with Android 4.3 or higher.
The Wearables Pot O'Gold
Tech companies are banking on wearables being the wave of the future, and Intel for one is working to be a player in a bid that could ensure its future. It is working with the fashion industry and has purchased several companies that make wearable devices.
The market for wearable devices, including Google Glass, the anticipated "iWatch," and other medical technology, will be more than US$5 billion this year, growing to exceed $12 billion in 2018, according to Statista.
Those figures might be a tad optimistic.
"There are early adopters, but probably not enough to support hundreds of thousands of devices being shipped," Mike Jude, a program manager at Frost & Sullivan, told LinuxInsider.
Possible Spoilers of the Smartwatch Dream
"Watches have become a niche market and I've seen statistics that say the entire watch market is worth $50 to 60 billion," Jim McGregor, principal analyst and founder at Tirias Research, told LinuxInsider.
"Millennials are moving over to smartphones, and the younger generation doesn't identify with watches," McGregor continued. "Turning towards watches is like saying GPS is going to be the next big thing."
Still, the idea of a smartwatch "has legs; youngsters who don't wear a wristwatch because it's so 20th Century may wear this," Jude suggested. Further, there are "a lot of situations where having telemetric displays on your wrist is a real advantage."