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Google moves boldly into wearables with Android Wear platform

“It needs to be incredibly fast, incredibly glanceable... there’s really only two components: the information that’s most relevant to you, and the ability to speak to it and do a quick command,” says Alex Faaborg, Android designer

Google

Google Inc. waded deeper into the wearable technology market Tuesday, with the announcement of a new mobile device operating system customized for smartwatches and similar gear: Android Wear.

The first announced hardware partner will be LG, who will make the G watch, launching some time in the second quarter of 2014. The Internet company said it is working with a number of hardware and chip companies to develop the watches, including Samsung Electronics Co., Motorola, Intel Corp. and Qualcomm Inc.

Google used a video to announce a developer kit for app makers, which should allow existing Play Store apps to hook into to Android Wear, and enables the creation of entirely new software optimized for wearable tech.

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"It needs to be incredibly fast, incredibly glanceable... there's really only two components: the information that's most relevant to you, and the ability to speak to it and do a quick command," says Alex Faaborg, Android designer, in the video.

"We designed an entirely new UI specifically for this form factor, and its really based around voice and contextual information."

Google's Android software has been pushing ever deeper into location- and user-specific data collection with systems such as Google Now that keep track of appointments, notifications, as well tells you about local weather, traffic and other geo-targetted information.

A second video, a slickly produced advertisement for the potential of wearables by Google, shows people responding to chat requests with a swipe or a quick spoken response, sees the watch alert a wearer she has just burned calories with a quick sprint and even pulls up a boarding pass QR code at an airport gate.

Some wearable devices running a stripped-down version of Android are already in the marketplace, including Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatches, but nothing yet approaches this level of voice-control and smooth use. No specifications wear made available for the upcoming LG device, and it is unclear if it is a stand-alone wireless gadget, or if it needs to tether to a phone to function.

Google's announcement "definitely gives wearables a status that it's a market in it's own right and it needs to be treated with the respect that a separate operating system branch gives it," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Kantar World Panel.

Rival device-maker Apple Inc. is widely believed to be working on its own version of a smartwatch, but it has never confirmed any of those rumours.

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Juniper Research expects more than 130 million smart wearable devices will ship by 2018. Moreover, global shipments of wearable "smart glasses" alone will reach 10 million each year by 2018, compared with an estimated 87,000 in 2013, according to the research firm.

With files from Reuters

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About the Author
Technology reporter

Shane Dingman is The Globe and Mail's technology reporter. He covers BlackBerry, Shopify and rising Canadian tech companies in Waterloo, Ont., Toronto and beyond. More

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