Google Launches Android Wear, Voice-Controlled Operating System for Wearables

(San Jose Mercury News/MCT) -

Google Inc. on Tuesday announced the initial availability of its Android Wear operating system, a version of its framework for mobile devices that is designed specifically for wearable technology such as smart watches and allows for voice control of the technology.

The first Android Wear release is aimed solely at smart watches, which have become more popular in the past year as Pebble, FitBit and Samsung have introduced watches that connect to smartphones and offer instant information on a user’s wrist. Google expects to have Android-powered smart watches on the market by the end of the year, and is working with several electronics manufacturers, including Motorola and Samsung; chipmakers such as Intel and Broadcom; and the Fossil Group and other fashion brands.

The most interesting twist in Tuesday’s announcement was a focus on voice controls for smart watches, with Sundar Pichai, Google’s executive in charge of Android and Chrome, emphasizing the ability to use the keywords “OK Google” to launch an array of possible commands for the software to follow.

“Just say ‘OK Google’ to ask questions, like how many calories are in an avocado, what time your flight leaves, and the score of the game,” Pichai wrote in an online post. “Or say ‘OK Google’ to get stuff done, like calling a taxi, sending a text, making a restaurant reservation or setting an alarm.”

Pichai, who announced a developer preview of Android Wear in the online post, also said that users could give voice commands to a smart watch that would activate other connected devices, such as a smartphone.

Analysts are optimistic about Google’s ability to perform in the wearables space with Android, which has stolen the market-share lead in smartphones and tablets from Apple’s iOS mobile operating system.

Google’s announcement has the potential to “push wearable technology into mainstream acceptance. It can’t do anything but accelerate an already fast-moving space,” Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst in Forrester’s application development and delivery group, told the San Jose Mercury News last week.

But Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, was wary that Google’s success with Android-based smartphones and tablets can be translated into wearable devices, because of the challenges of converting smartphone technology into something as small as a wristwatch.

“Most watches are less than 2 inches diagonally, that you look at several feet from your eyes,” O’Donnell said. “With something that’s that dramatically cut down, you cannot possibly leverage any existing applications. You have to start completely from scratch. It’s going to be a completely different animal than Android.”