Google's Android Wear smartwatches now work with iPhones
The search giant is hoping to give smartwatches powered by Google-made software a jolt of popularity. How? By opening them up to the Apple faithful.
Richard NievaFormer senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Google wants to make sure it gets smartwatches powered by its software on as many wrists as possible -- even if that means treading into enemy territory.
The search giant on Monday said smartwatches that run Android Wear, the Google-made software tailored for wearable devices, will now work with Apple's iPhones.
That move is a major shift in Google's approach to smartwatches. Up until now, Android Wear smartwatches -- made by hardware vendors including Samsung, Motorola and LG -- only worked with Android-based smartphones. By connecting to iPhone users, Google expands its potential crop of customers -- Apple sold 47.5 million iPhones in the last quarter alone.
Watch this: Connect Android Wear to your iPhone
Google is likely hoping that making Android Wear smartwatches more widely usable will entice iPhone owners mulling a smartwatch purchase to consider an option other than the Apple Watch, which only works with the iPhone. Apple's first wearable has become the world's most popular smartwatch within its first few months on the market this year, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.
Google entered the smartwatch market last year when it launched Android Wear. But so far, it's had trouble gaining traction with consumers, who remain undecided about whether they even need computers on their wrists. Smartwatch makers collectively shipped only 720,000 Android Wear units in 2014 out of a total 4.6 million wearables, according to market research firm Canalys.
Apple jump-started interest in the devices when it announced the Apple Watch in September 2014, but the company has been mum about specifics on how many watches it's sold. According to Strategy Analytics, though, the company sold 4 million Apple Watches in the last quarter. Apple CEO Tim Cook in July said the watch beat the company's own internal projections.
For now, Google has some limitations on how Android Wear works with iPhones. For example, Apple users won't be able to connect their Android Wear watches to a Wi-Fi network -- they can only use a cellular connection. Being able to connect to Wi-Fi is helpful if you're headed to a place with a good signal and you want to leave your phone behind.
In April, Google announced Wi-Fi connectivity for Android Wear watches connected to Android-based phones, but iPhone owners will have to wait -- Google hasn't said when it will make Wi-Fi access available to Apple users.
iPhone users also won't be able to access the 4,000 Android Wear apps from Google's Play marketplace -- made by third-party software makers like social network Pinterest or dating app Tinder -- through their Android Wear watches.
The watch will be able to display any notifications you'd get on your iPhone -- including all notifications from any app you have downloaded there.
There's one more caveat: Only newer Android Wear watches will be able to connect to iPhones -- the first watch to be compatible is the $350 LG Watch Urbane, which came out in May. Upcoming Android Wear watches from Huawei, Asus, and Motorola will also work with iPhones, Google said. CNET reported last week that those vendors are unveiling smartwatches at the IFA electronics trade show in Berlin this week.
The iPhones will have to be newer models as well (no older than the iPhone 5), and powered by current versions of Apple's software (iOS 8.2 and newer). iPhone users will be able to connect their Google-powered smartwatches to their phones by downloading the Android Wear app from Apple's App Store.