The future of wearable electronics is here

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Nick Camferdam | Science Editor

Tech websites erupted last week with the official launch of Android Wear, a new product line from Google focused on custom OS wearable computing platforms. At the center of this launch is a new series of so-called smart watches, with the G Watch, built by LG, and the Moto 360, created by Motorola, the first announced products. Videos have already been released by Google showing the myriad of potential applications for the devices, setting of a wave of speculation regarding what the new Google Watches will be capable of. The question then becomes, what do we know for certain about these products?”

First, anyone who has experience with Google’s last flagship release, Google Glass, will find a number of familiar features here. The watches both utilize the same Google Now voice control system, capable of operating largely on voice commands alone. As with Google Glass, a user will simply have to say “OK Google” and then state their desired command. Both products will have highly capable voice-recognition and analysis abilities, allowing each device to quickly and accurately transcribe a user’s spoken word in real time. Context awareness will also play a big role in these smart watches, allowing the device to call up program’s based on what the user is currently doing. For example, the watch could automatically bring up the code for a movie ticket once the user has arrived at the theater.

Based on the official videos and press releases, it appears that Google Watches will have robust networking capabilities, ranging from remotely controlling a music playlist on another device to casting a movie to a user’s television. Significantly, developer videos have also indicated that the watches will be capable of acting as mirrors for existing android devices with which they are paired. This essentially means that each watch will be capable of operating apps and programs already loaded on a user’s other devices. This will both significantly increase battery life for the watches (a major issue for any wearable device), and also reduce work for developers, since they won’t need to add all of the programs themselves. Another potential features that Google is looking at is the option for wireless charging.

With these two releases, rumors are now circling around whether or not Google will custom produce their own watch design. Such a product has been hinted at by sources within Google since 2013. That year, Google also filed a patent at the US Patent Office for a “smart-watch with user interface features”. It is unknown what a potential Google-built watch would look like, but the round interface of the Moto 360 and the square interface of the G Watch suggest that the company is open to wide variety of designs. Indeed, it is likely, according to some industry observers, that announcements will be made in the near future about similar products by other Google partners, such as HTC, Assus, Samsung, and Fossil.

These and other recent ventures by Google, such as Google Glass, pose a significant threat to Apple, the long-standing innovator in the mobile industry. Currently, Apple has not answer to Google Watches, with altogether little to go on in terms of wearable electronics. There are even rumors that Google has plans for its own chain of retail stores, offering potential competition for the famous Apple Store. Whether these developments represent a major shift in the industry, remains to be see. However, it is clear that the release of the two (and possibly many more) Google Watches put Google on the cutting edge of mobile design.