From the moment Google kicked off its I/O developers' conference on Wednesday, it was clear that wearables and Android Wear would feature prominently, as a parade of Google employees took the stage wearing mostly big-screened bulky-looking watches on their wrists.
Android Wear is the company's software platform for linking smartwatches from companies including LG, Samsung and Motorola to Android phones and tablets. A preview of Wear was introduced this spring, but today Google provided more details on how it will work and made it clear that the company is investing heavily in the notion that wearables are the future, even as early smartwatches have failed to impress most consumers.
Android Wear takes much of the functionality of Google Now and makes an attached smartwatch the home for receiving notifications and context-based information and suggestions that currently live within Now on Android devices. If you're traveling, Android Wear can push relevant flight, weather and other information direct to your watch, where you can tap and swipe your way through it and use embedded prompts and voice control to take further actions, like dictating a note reminding you to pack rain gear. (Interestingly, the voice note example was one of the few on-stage fails during the I/O keynote, as the phone refused to take dictation.)
Like most other parts of the Google Chrome and Android ecosystem, Wear devices sync up seamlessly to such a degree that, in one example demonstrated on stage, as you swipe through steps for a recipe on your watch, the screen on your phone also scrolls down at the same time to be perfectly in sync.
For the most part, Google had already revealed most of what Wear will be able to do in its preview, but its big on-stage debut Wednesday was largely about getting app developers to also buy into the platform and to begin to keep designing for a peripheral wearable interface in mind. Apps can be designed to harness different Android Wear "intents." For example, the Lyft app takes advantage of the "call me a car" intent and can be set to be the default means of hailing a ride when you tell your smartwatch to find you a car.
A dedication to the wearable concept also seemed to be present in a preview of the next version of Android. simply dubbed "L" that led off the keynote. Android L includes a new look and approach to notifications that feels meant to convey a great sense of integration, not just across the web and apps, but also across devices and connected devices like smartwatches. Further, new Android authentication features take into account whether or not the user is wearing a smartwatch. If you have Android Wear on your wrist, the phone is more comfortable that it's you and allows you to bypass the lock screen.
Google announced that the first Android Wear watches, the Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch, are now available to pre-order, with the round-face Motorola Moto 360 coming later this summer.
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