From Smartphones to smart wearable devices. And then?

You cannot have missed last week’s big announcement: the release of Google’s Android Wear platform for wearable devices, especially smartwatches. But before discussing why this announcement is so important, let’s jump back in time…
Remember the year 2005. The release of Start Wars Episode III. The hurricane Katrina. Facebook only existed in few American campuses, while MySpace was “the” social network. Somewhere between that, in the month of August, your favourite web search engine (at the time, almost only a search engine) buys an unknown small start-up company: Android, who develops an operating system for mobile devices, or “smart” phones.

HTC Dream, the first Android smartphone

HTC Dream, the first Android smartphone

The rest of the story is well-known. In 2007, Apple launches the first “smartphone” ever: the iPhone. First on this new market, Apple launches a revolution that deeply changes the user’s habits. The iPhone’s success is huge. Google, and HTC, reply in 2008 with the HTC Dream — the well named. The first Android prototypes really are, prototypes, but soon the dream does come true: Smartphones spread into the world. The Android OS gradually improves with every version and convinces more and more phone manufacturers. Android soon becomes the new leader of smartphone (and also tablet) market to the extent where in 2013 Android holds a market share of 75.3%, well ahead of iOS and their 16.3% share. As if 8 years before, Google had foreseen the huge potential of this small start-up…
Today, more than 1 of 2 phones sold is a smartphone. It’s become quite banal. The high-tech world is looking ahead, preparing for what’s next: wearable technology, i.e. all kind of intelligent devices that you put all over your body, that collects data, interacts with you… Well, let’s make it simple: today, wearable tech is mainly glasses and watches, but smart. By walking around London’s first Wearable Technology Show, you can see what wearable tech is actually about: a collection of concepts of good ideas. On the right, two pairs of glass with cameras, on the left a handful of colourful wristbands and watches, at the back some Augmented Reality headsets, here and there NFC-enabled jewelries and sensor-full clothes. But the market still appears very immature. Our curiosity is tickled but true functionality is yet to be found.
It appears as the wearable technology market today is a little like the smartphone one back in 2007-2008: it’s been several years now that companies are preparing for this next step in high-tech (r)evolution, the first prototypes are being sold, curiosity is at its peak, but something’s missing. Same background as 6 years ago, and once again Google has something to say. And we’ve learnt from experience that when Google has something to say, we better listen.
It’s amazing to see how Google always seems to be one step ahead of all high-tech companies: is it economic power? Great design? The smartest engineers? Some oracle at the head of it? Well, anyway, Google has unveiled the Android Wear platform, a way for developers to extend their Android apps to your body (your wrist, mainly). Yes, it comes quite late. Yes, smartwatches already exist (from Samsung, Burg, Sony, Pebble…), but they all have their own homemade OS. Android Wear has all the potentials to be successful, for the same reasons that made Android’s success: it’s open-source, it’s simple, it focuses on user experience, on helpfulness, on productivity, and most of all, it’s an extension of Android’s power: it comes with the same great development tools that allow everyone to realise his/her ideas, and existing apps just need to adapt.

Android Wear running on Moto 360

Android Wear running on Moto 360

No doubt that 2014 is going to be the year of wearables — at least of smartwatches. Google’s announcement has been immediately followed by Motorola’s and LG’s who revealed the first watches to support the Android Wear platform, a round one (the breathtaking Motorola 360) and a square one (LG G Watch). They are due to be released by this summer in the US.
But with such high-speed progress comes great questions. The greatest of which came from my mother: does it even provide time?



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