By Barry Levine / Mobile Tech Today. Updated March 10, 2014.
Having developed the most popular platform for mobile devices, Google is now targeting wearables. On Sunday, a company executive announced that an Android software development kit (SDK) for wearables will be released soon.
The executive, Sundar Pichai, made the announcement at a South by Southwest (SXSW) media conference in Austin, Texas. He said the SDK will be released before the wearables market heats up, in order to get feedback. APIs for sensors in wearables are in development, Pichai said.
The Android-for-wearables platform is expected to utilize the same model as the standard Android -- free and customizable for manufacturers. The expected release date is within two weeks.
Google will be releasing its own LG-manufactured smart watch, with most recent projections pointing to June at the Google I/O conference. A variety of smart watches on the market already use some form of the open-source operating system, but there's lots of headroom -- the market is projected by Juniper Research to be as large as $19 billion by 2018.
In addition to watches, the category of wearables could also include glasses, such as Google Glass, intelligent hearing aids that function as a Bluetooth microphone/earpiece, clothing with sensors and connectivity, sensor-embedded shoes, intelligent jewelry, and other clothing and accessories.
At SXSW, Pichai mentioned an Android-based, sensor-packed "smart jacket" as an example product. Another distinct possibility is that some kinds of wearables -- such as intelligent in-the-ear devices, glasses or even jewelry -- could begin to emerge with phone capabilities.
Ross Rubin, principal analyst for industry research firm Reticle Research, noted that "we've seen Android jammed into all kinds of products without Google doing much to accommodate them," including alarm clocks, all-in-ones and, of course, watches.
'Endorsement of the Category'
Now, he noted, the company is "offering explicit support in a SDK," and that is "an endorsement of the category."
Rubin added that Android is clearly the potential leader as the wearables platform, given its base in mobiles and because there "doesn't seem to be any imminent strong competition." Apple is expected to release its own iWatch at some point, but, if its experience in mobile devices and computers is any indication, iWearables will occupy a strong but minority segment of the category. Typically, Apple aims for a position as a provider of premium products, not necessarily the volume leader.
Samsung, Rubin noted, did switch to its Tizen platform in the latest release of its smart watch, but so far that OS is barely registering a position. Based on the open-source Linux OS, as Android is, Tizen was developed in 2012, and is backed by Intel as well as Samsung. There have been reports that Samsung, which makes more Android devices than any manufacturer, will be emphasizing Tizen in its future releases, such as smartphones.
Google has also been taking steps to increase its footprint in other kinds of intelligent devices. In January, for instance, it purchased intelligent thermostat maker Nest, and the company has indicated that it intends to increase its involvement in the smart car trend.