Google sought to steal a march on Apple and breathe life into a new market for “wearable” devices, as it showed off a range of stripped-down internet services such as voice-activated search to feature on a coming generation of smartwatches.
The search company also outlined plans to take its Android smartphone software into other new markets, signalling an intensification of the platform wars between the leading consumer technology companies and internet companies. These included a version for cars, called Android Auto, and a TV set-top box, named Android TV, taking Google into fields that Apple has already entered.
Apple laid the ground last month for its own iWatch, with the announcement of a fitness app that will act as a hub for a user’s health information, much of it collected from around the body by sensors embedded in wearable gadgets.
The big US tech companies have raced to launch the wearables market as the growth in smartphone sales has levelled off in the developed world, carrying over the tactics they honed in the smartphone wars. Google’s approach, using a new version of its Android smartphone operating system, relies on rallying a range of electronics companies to make devices using its services.
“Google has a big ecosystem advantage, they have a lot of companies working on it,” said Geoff Blaber, a mobile industry analyst at CCS Insight. “But, like tablets, it will probably take a couple of generations for these to really catch on with consumers, and Apple has a big brand advantage over any of these manufacturers.”
The first Google-powered smartwatches, from LG and Samsung, will be available for order immediately, the search company said, although it did not say when the devices would be shipped. A Motorola watch will also go on sale this summer, it added.
The battle to attract users will depend on creating useful new services for smartwatches, according to analysts, explaining why the big tech companies have used their annual developer events to lay out plans.
“As with Apple’s push into health apps ahead of its iWatch launch, wearables’ success lies in creating an ‘ecosystem’ of apps before consumers will be prepared to buy new devices,” said Carolina Milanesi, mobile analyst with Kantar Worldpanel.
Google said that smartphone users check their screens 120 times a day on average, and that smartwatches could replace some of the interaction. The watches could give “intelligent answers to spoken questions”, and act as a “key in a multi-screen world”, it said.
The attempt to make smartwatches an unobtrusive addition to the personal tech armoury marks a new approach from Google after its attempt to make Google Glass the flagship of its push into wearables.
The Glass headset “has been seen by many as inelegant and overly geeky, with potential to offend the privacy-sensitive,” Ms Milanesi said.
Get alerts on Alphabet Inc when a new story is published