Google software update paves way for wearables on Android

Among other things, Google Play Services 5.0, a new software update, aims to help developers easily make the transition to wearable-friendly apps.

Richard Nieva Former 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.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

James Martin/CNET

At Google's I/O developers conference last week, the company made a big push into connected wearable devices -- including showing off its Android Wear software on smartwatches made by Samsung, LG, and Motorola.

A software update released Wednesday, called Google Play Services 5.0, will help to usher in the upcoming wave of wearable devices by making it easier for apps to communicate with wearables running Android Wear, a modified version of Google's mobile operating system, tailored for wearables.

Smartwatches, at least for now, must be paired with a smartphone to connect to the Internet. The new update allows apps and data on phones and tablets to better sync with wearable devices.

At the conference, Google unveiled an ambitious new plan for the expansion of its Android software: to make it the basis of platforms far beyond just phones and tablets. That includes watches, televisions, home appliances, and car dashboards.

That reach gives the search giant a way to collect the valuable user data the company -- and advertisers -- covet. That includes more intimate user data beyond the location and apps-usage information it gleans from smartphones and tablets today.

But a subtle -- and often unnoticed, at least for consumers -- part of that drive means optimizing the software to work on all the various platforms. So, this software should make it easier for someone wearing a smartwatch to get notifications and messages more seamlessly from their apps.

Making the Android software more uniform across devices has been a major theme for Google recently. The company last week unveiled the newest version of Android, nicknamed L -- not to be confused with the Google Play Services update released Wednesday. (L is still unreleased for now.)

A significant aspect of Android L is Material Design, a design language meant to give all devices running Android a similar look and feel. "Users will already know the way around your app, no matter what system you're on," Matias Duarte, a vice president of Android design, said at the conference.

The Play Services update also contained several new APIs that have nothing to do with wearables. The update includes security fixes, as well as APIs that make it easier for Google's search app to link to information within apps. Gaming updates allow developers to save users' game progress inside the cloud.