Wearables fit perfectly into Google's smart strategy

Android Wear mobile OS to eventually work with robotics, smart cars, smart homes and search

Google's Android Wear mobile operating system is about powering smartwatches, but it also fits neatly into the company's overall smart strategy.

Google's new OS for wearables will also help tie together the company's different ventures, which range from search to robotics, Google Glass and data analytics.

Motorola announced the Moto 360 smartwatch that will run on Android Wear. (Photo: Motorola)

It also means that Google Glass, which is expected to officially ship later this year, is unlikely to be the only wearable computer that the company releases.

On Tuesday, Google unveiled Android Wear, a whittled down OS that is designed to give wearables, like smartwatches, more than smartphone features.

The OS will take advantage of Google Now, the company's personal assistant software, to give users weather and traffic information, public alerts and translations.

Users start out by saying, "OK, Google" and then tell the smartwatch or other wearable device to call them a cab, set an alarm or answer a text message. They will also be able to use the smartwatch to check a map, get calendar reminders or to find out how many calories they've burned running to their gate at the airport.

Many of these functions can be done now with a smartphone, but with a wearable, like a smartwatch, users don't have to dig the device out of a pocket or purse. They simply have to check their wrist.

Google announced in a blog post Tuesday that a Developer Preview is ready for download and more APIs and other developer resources will be coming soon.

Google has been touting prototypes of its computerized eyeglasses, Google Glass, and is rumored to be coming out with its own smartwatch in June. It's not clear if Google will develop a family of wearable computers or if it will focus on working with its partners to build their own.

The company noted Tuesday that it's working with several consumer electronics manufacturers, including Asus, HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung. It's also working with chip makers, including Broadcom, Imagination, Intel, Mediatek and Qualcomm, along with fashion brands like the Fossil Group.

When a company builds a wearable computer, Google wants its software in that device, expanding the Android platform beyond smartphones and laptops. And that right there, fits in with Google's overall strategy.

Widening its reach

Google is known for its search engine and its popular Android smartphone platform. However, Google continues to stretch its reach, by developing autonomous cars, acquiring smart thermostat maker Nest and buying up a bevy of robotics companies, including well-known Boston Dynamics.

With a wearable like Google Glass or a smartwatch, users eventually could control their robotic helpers, smart homes and self-driving cars.

Those devices, which would keep track of information, such as where a user goes during the day, calendar items and driving routes, also would be collecting a lot of data.

That means Google, which sells ads based on analytics and user interests, would quickly grow its stockpile of data, helping the company bring in more ad revenue and adding more context to its knowledge base about its users.

"Wearables fit perfectly into Google's strategy," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moore Insights & Strategy. "Wearables also need to be seen as future controllers for future smart homes, robots, and an extended screen of the smartphone and tablet. And unlike a smartphone, wearables are more often on our bodies, not in our pockets, nightstand, purse or desk."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said Google has a continuously evolving company strategy and wearable computers fit well into where the company is headed.

"I think wearables represent a new frontier for Google," he said. "It all dovetails together, with these products complementing and extending the capabilities of each other. With Android being so prevalent in the smartphone and tablet world, it's not a surprise that Google will look to leverage this asset into other complementary areas."

But the company's focus on wearables also goes back to search, Google's first and core service.

"Because wearables provide improved context, they are critical to search," Moorhead said. "The more context a search engine has, the more precise the results. It's as simple as that... Wearables in the near-future will know best what I am doing, where I am doing it, with whom I am doing it and why I am doing it. That gives the search engine the ability to discern if I'm working, shopping, exercising, driving or eating. That enables it to better do my searches."

This article, Wearables fit perfectly into Google's smart strategy, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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