Picture a device that serves up timely, localized info from your smartphone's apps and Web searches based on what it predicts you want to know. Look, here's a traffic report as you head off on your daily commute. Here's a notice about a meeting change. Here's a flight update as you head to the airport. Now imagine that you don't wear the device on your face (Google Glass) or dig it out of your pocket, but access it with a glance at your watch, a few swipes at its touch screen, or perhaps a spoken command.
This is the world conjured by Google's launch video for Android Wear, its software platform for wearable tech. Whether the products that run the software will justify the hype remains an open question until summer 2014, when the first devices hit the market. Industry wonks though have already dubbed it a potential game changer, particularly while an Apple equivalent remains mere rumor.
Wearable technologies, most notably smart watches, have long struggled to gain traction in the marketplace for all sorts of reasons: aesthetics, price, functionality, battery life. But devices running Android Wear will enjoy a strong boost right out the gate, thanks to Android's market dominance, its wide marketplace of apps and Android Wear's streamlined operating system, which is designed specifically for wearables.
Two much-buzzed companies have already thrown wrist pieces into the ring. LG kicked things off by announcing its G Watch, a less bricklike alternative to the customary smart watch square, followed by Motorola Mobility flogging its Moto 360, which shoots for chic with its range of leather bands and brushed metal finishes even as critics question the real estate possibilities of its round face. Asus, HTC and Samsung have signed up for watch work as well [sources: Chen; Motorola].
As for how much these brave new wearables will set you back, we can only speculate. The Moto X smartphone, which ran Google Now (a key component of Android Wear, which we'll get to) and was a kind of spiritual precursor to the Moto 360, was somewhat overpriced. In addition, the engineering R&D required to jam vital electronics into a round package could drive up the 360's sticker price. Then again, Motorola could opt to eat some of those costs, banking on affordability to make a bigger splash. The International Business Times projects an initial range of $279-$400 for the Moto 360, depending on options, which would place it above the top-end Pebble smart watch, the $249 Pebble Steel [source: Halleck].
But Android Wear is more than an engine for running smart watches and other wearable gear. It's the latest step in Google's long game, built on the backbone of the Google Now technology.