Samsung is launching a smartwatch running Google’s Android Wear software. Its Gear Live will go on sale later today, from the Google Play store.
The news was announced during the keynote session of Google’s I/O developer conference in San Francisco, where the company also confirmed that LG’s previously-announced G Watch will also be available today.
Motorola, its third partner for the Android Wear programme, will start selling its Moto 360 smartwatch later in the summer. Samsung’s news came as a surprise, because the company recently launched another smartwatch, the Gear 2, running its own Tizen software.
“We’re right at the beginning of a new phase in the miniaturisation of technology,” said David Singleton, Google’s director of engineering, who noted that Android Wear will support both square and circular screens before demonstrating the software running on a smartwatch.
Android Wear is designed to work closely with Android smartphones, while responding to voice commands from users and showing “glanceable notifications” from apps. The demonstration took in music playback, restaurant reservations and activity tracking, among other features.
Google launched a developer preview of its Android Wear software development kit (SDK) earlier in the year, but is releasing a full version today, with the aim of encouraging developers to make apps for devices running it.
Google is keen for developers to make apps for Android Wear, and has been adding Wear notifications to its own apps like Hangouts and Gmail to serve as case studies to follow. Singleton showed apps from partners including Pinterest, Eat24, Lyft
Android developers will be able to make Wear versions of their apps that will be automatically installed on people’s smartwatches when they install the parent app on their smartphones.
“When a watch is connected, the wearable portion of the app is automatically installed and kept up to date on that watch,” said Singleton.
Google first announced plans for Android Wear in March at the SXSW conference, before launching preview tools for developers later that month.
Google’s Sundar Pichai described the appeal of wearables thus: “They understand the context of the world around you, and you can interact with them simply and efficiently, with just a glance or a spoken word.”
Google is far from the only technology company setting its sights on the wearable gadgets market though. Besides Samsung, Sony and startup Pebble, Apple is expected to unveil its own smartwatch later in 2014, working closely with its iOS software for iPhone and iPad, with an emphasis on fitness and activity-tracking features.
Research firms expect sharp growth for the wearables market in the coming years, although the early nature of the space means most predictions are likely to be revised regularly.
IDC has forecast that by 2018, annual sales of wearable gadgets will reach 112m units. Estimates for annual revenues by 2018 range from ABI Research’s conservative $6bn prediction to Juniper Research’s bullish $19bn forecast.