Time for Android Wear: Google shows off Samsung, LG, Motorola smartwatches

Google's Android Wear software is being used to power the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch, available for order today, and the Moto 360 due later in the summer.

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Sundar Pichai, Google's head of Android and Chrome, shows off the Moto 360 smartwatch at Google I/O. James Martin/CNET

Android Wear, Google's software for powering smartwatches and new Internet-connected devices beyond smartphones and tablets, is finally here.

On Wednesday, Google showed off the LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live, and Moto 360 smartwatches running its software. The $229 watch from LG and the $199 Samsung device will be available for preorder in the Google Play Store today, while Motorola's watch will launch later in the summer. The LG and Samsung watches will be in consumers' hands July 7.

Google provided a demo of voice commands, notifications, and other actions on the devices from LG and Motorola during the keynote at its Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco. David Singleton, director of engineering for Google, said that Android Wear devices will be available with both rectangular and circular screens and will come in a "wide variety of fashionable designs." The models from LG and Samsung both feature square displays, while Motorola's is round.

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"We're right at the beginning of a new phase of the miniaturization of technology, which means it's finally possible to make a small computer that can fit comfortably on your body all day long," Singleton said.

Google and other companies have been looking to wearables as a new market opportunity while smartphone and tablet growth slows. By the end of this year, over 19 million wearable devices will ship worldwide, tripling last year's figure, market researcher IDC reported in April. By 2018, wearable shipments are expected to hit 111.9 million worldwide shipments -- still a small number compared with the 1.7 billion smartphones expected to be sold that year.

Singleton said that people look at their Android phones an average of 125 times a day, so watches make it much easier to quickly absorb notifications but still interact with the surrounding environment.

In terms of features, Singleton said some models of Android Wear will include heart-rate monitors and pedometers. The software will allow users to activate a do-not-disturb setting by swiping down on the display. Users also can issue voice commands by talking to the Android Wear devices and save things such as flight boarding passes for easy access. They'll also be able to use music controls on the smartwatches to activate the music app on their Android phones.

"The watch will act as your key in a multiscreen world," Singleton said.

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The LG G Watch runs Google's Android Wear software. CNET

Executives speaking during the keynote, including Sundar Pichai, Google's head of Android and Chrome, were wearing various models of Android Wear. He sported a Moto 360 watch.

CNET reported last week that Samsung, LG, and Motorola smartwatches would debut at Google I/O.

Google this week is hosting its annual developers conference in San Francisco. Before the event, the Mountain View, Calif., company said it would focus its army of attendees on the three Ds: design, development, and distribution. The conference regularly fills out Moscone West with more than 6,000 attendees.

Most smartphones and tablets in the world run Android, but the pressure is on for Google to lead the wearables market before rival Apple likely launches a smartwatch later this year. The Apple product is a highly anticipated new device that's already been dubbed the iWatch. Some early wearables, including Samsung's Galaxy Gear, used Android, but Android-based smartwatches were slow to take off in part because of their performance. Samsungswitched to the Tizen OS in its smartwatches and a real-time operating system in its Gear Fit health band to improve battery life. Most fitness bands in the world run on software other than Android, as well.

Google has been making tweaks to Android so it runs better on the growing number of wearables. The company unveiled Android Wear in March, modifying an operating system that's heavily based on its Google Now voice-recognition technology. At the time, Google said LG, Asus, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung would be the first hardware partners to use Android Wear, while Fossil Group would unveil Android Wear-powered watches later in the year.

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David Burke, director of engineering for Android, sports an Android Wear device. James Martin/CNET

LG designers from Korea, speaking during a private press lunch Wednesday, said the G Watch will be pure Android Wear and won't include any optimized software from LG. But they said they've made suggestions to Google about changes, such as the clock design, that Google could incorporate in the future.

They also said that all of the initial Android Wear devices work with all recent Android phones and tablets running version 4.3 of the software or newer. Samsung's earlier smartwatches only worked with its own smartphones and tablets, but its Gear Live watch works with any recent Android products.

"This is the beginning so that's why this has to work with any Android platform," the LG designers said through an interpreter.

For more information, see all of today's Google I/O news.

Updated constantly before 10:30 a.m. PT with additional details. Updated again at 1:30 p.m. PT with pricing information.

 

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