Smartwatches are another big smartphone expansion area, and they’re one of the first wearable computers that sort of make sense. The first major companies out of the gate were Samsung, Sony, and the Kickstarted Pebble smartwatch. No device has really been able to deliver on the promise of creating a useful wrist computer that doesn’t look ridiculous, although Pebble probably came the closest with the?Pebble Steel.
Google has slowly been working its way toward a smartwatch. The rumors (and common sense) claim it will be powered by Android, and KitKat’s lighter system requirements should help all wearable computers run a little more smoothly. According to reports from?The?Wall Street Journal, the watch will be heavily integrated with Google Now and will be able to “answer questions”?which presumably means it will be voice activated. It all sounds a lot like a wrist-mounted version of Google Glass.
The killer feature for smartwatches will be enabling users to effortlessly deal with incoming notifications, something no watch has yet to deliver on. In Android 4.3, Google added a new notification API that allows apps (and presumably other devices)?to read, dismiss, or take action on a notification. For some mysterious reason, no company has taken advantage of this feature on a watch yet, probably due to the low profile of the API. If anyone knows the ins and outs of Android, though, it’s Google.?Imagine being able to archive a Gmail message right from your watch.
According to the?Journal,?Google is looking to tackle the biggest problems with smartwatches to date: usefulness and battery life. While there are no details on how Google plans to tackle the battery problems, Google Now cards and actionable notifications will seriously help in the usefulness department.
To bolster its smartwatch initiative, Google?purchased smartwatch maker Wimm?during the summer of 2012. Wimm was one of the first smartwatch makers, releasing an Android 2.1-based watch all the way back in 2011. Wimm’s software was particularly impressive?at a time when Android didn’t even support tablets, Wimm had a custom set of APIs for super-small screens and a working app store. Google saw the company’s hardware and software prowess and snapped it up, and now the Wimm team is working on Android from the inside.
A consumer release of Google Glass
While Google released a?very?minor revision of Glass in late 2013 that added an earbud and compatibility with prescription frames, we’re still waiting for a true update of the futuristic device. Sergey Brin stated that Google hopes to get a consumer release out sometime in?2014, but beyond that, there isn’t much we know about the new version.
Comments from Googlers suggest that the second version of Glass will slim down the physical size a bit. When demoing the original version to?The New York Times, Babak Parviz, the former head of Project Glass said,??This is the bulkiest version of Glass we?ll ever make.? A slimmer version would hopefully cut down on the awkward, lopsided design of Glass while also making it a little less dorky looking.
The current Glass unit has similar specs to the Galaxy Nexus, with a 1Ghz dual-core TI OMAP 4430 and 1GB of RAM. While a speed boost would be nice on the new version, the Texas Instruments OMAP processor has to be replaced, as TI?quit?the mobile processor business and no longer provides support for its SoCs. The Galaxy Nexus doesn’t even run KitKat because of the lack of support from TI.?Presumably, Google would also want a new version of Glass to run on the faster, slimmer KitKat, but the current Glass software only runs Android 4.0.4, Ice Cream Sandwich. That puts Glass four versions behind the latest Android devices and means the device is missing a ton of performance improvements.
On the Glass ecosystem side, Google finally launched the?Native Glass SDK?around two months ago, which enables developers to write more powerful, native Glass apps. Before a consumer launch happens, Google will need to have some kind of Glass app store to house these applications. Right now, Google lists third-party Glass apps at the bottom of the MyGlass settings, which isn’t a scalable solution.?Integrating with the Google Play Store is a possibility, and it would save a lot of work since most of the difficult app store features?like accounts, payments, cloud installs, in-app-purchases, and device compatibility?have already been built by the Android team
Google has been slowly working on integrating Google Now into Chrome. We’ve seen an early look at Google’s predictive cards in?nightly builds?of Chrome, and the feature has started to show up in the Chrome OS dev channel. The current design puts the cards in Chrome’s notification panel, but they are pretty hard to notice. Google surely has a few bugs to work out, but as it gets more stable, Google Now will slowly move to the dev, beta, and stable channels.
Google has frequently described Google Now as “the future of search”?it’s basically predictive search?so the company needs to eventually find a way to put it on Google.com, too.
A Chrome OS tablet
Buried in the settings of Chrome OS is an option to turn on a virtual keyboard. The Chrome team has been hard at work on this feature, issuing updates for it as recently as?a few days ago. Why does Chrome have an onscreen keyboard? It makes no sense for any of Chrome OS’ current form factors, which consist of laptops, headless desktop boxes, and all-in-one desktops. There are a few Chrome OS laptops with touchscreens, but they also have keyboards. The only device that needs a virtual keyboard and would conceivably work with Chrome OS is a tablet.
Why make Chrome OS tablets when you already have Android tablets? The current plan is that Android runs on phones and tablets, and Chrome OS runs on laptops and desktops, sort of like Apple’s iOS/Mac OS X division. A Chrome OS tablet device would muddy this?delineation?a bit, but we might have an?explanation. Android does not work very well on 10-inch devices?most apps can stand being stretched to a?portrait 7-inch screen, but the user experience starts to fall apart on a horizontal 10-inch screen. Google seems to agree with this, as it isn’t in any kind of a hurry to refresh the 14-month-old Nexus 10. Perhaps the new plan is to stop Android at the 7-8 inch size and sell Chrome OS on devices 10 inches and up.
A floating retail space
The Google Barge! Google?has been experimenting?with turning a bunch of shipping containers on a boat into a four-story floating retail space. No one is quite sure what Google will sell on its sea-going store?Google has only described it as “an interactive space where people can learn about new technology”?but most rumors claim that it will be a Google Glass exhibition. Google is actually building?four?of these things, and when finished, the big, square buildings will be covered in a dozen sails and will go from port to port showing off Googley wares.?According to?San Francisco regulators,?Google’s fleet of ships is expected to?be up and running in late spring 2014.
Behold the massive size of Google, Inc.
Google has been growing at a breakneck pace lately and looks to continue that growth going into 2014. If you aren’t getting a?creepy?megacorporation vibe?from all of this yet, we haven?t even mentioned Google?s pushes into schools, government, and the workplace with Google Docs and Chromebooks or the special?Play Store for education. We haven?t touched on any of Google’s data center work or its?innumerable?investments in power?either.
Hopefully this list is not just an eye-opener about Google’s ambitions. Our goal was to shed some light on just how all-encompassing the computer revolution has become. Cars, homes, watches, televisions, phones, transportation, video, music, and medicine are all being disrupted by the computer, and it will eventually all culminate in a walking, talking computer (also known as a robot).?Google wants to be at the forefront of all of these new markets, and it?has the cash, engineers, and ambition to tackle nearly any technological problem it wants. 2014 promises to be another year full of acquisitions, announcements, and product launches for the company. Who knows how many more areas Google will tackle before 2015.