Google Smartwatch: What we think we know about Google’s other wearable tech project

Google Nexus Smartwatch

Almost all smartwatches you can buy work with an Android phone, and there are several that actually run Google’s Android (or a version of it) as an operating system. While Apple is supposedly working on an iWatch, which almost certainly won’t be compatible with Android, it looks like Google is developing its own watch.

Rumors have spread about a Google watch for more than a year. But will it be a Nexus smartwatch, i.e. one built by a manufacturing partner but sold through Google Play, or will it be a Motorola product designed before Google sold the firm to Lenovo, and made to tie-in with the Moto X, or next Moto phone? Let’s take a closer look at all the gossip.

Patents gave us our first hint

Google Nexus Smartwatch patentGoogle filed a patent for a smartwatch way back in 2011, saying the device could include a wristband, a base, and a flip-up display. Not every patent is used as the basis for a final product, so we can’t be sure whether the eventual Google watch will have a flip-up section, but it’s an interesting proposition for making a small screen somewhat larger.

Little was heard about the Google watch until early 2013, when a report appeared in the Financial Times. Quoting sources close to Google, it said the firm’s Android division was working on a smartwatch. Google Glass, on the other hand, was developed by Google’s X Lab, the birthplace of the self-driving car.

Several months later, in May, another Google patent for a smartwatch turned up, this time without a flip-up display, but with touchpads built into the wristband instead. Like the Toq watch, these would be used to scroll and navigate around the screen. If you’ve used a smartwatch with a touchscreen, you’ll know how small and fiddly they can be, making this approach really interesting.

Will the Google smartwatch run Android?

Android has been designed to work on devices with screens larger than 1.5-inches, though it has been squeezed down to tiny proportions before. When Google announced Android 4.4 KitKat, it promoted it by saying it would work on all sorts of different pieces of hardware, primarily because it was happy to operate with 512MB of RAM. Could the lightweight KitKat be destined for Google’s smartwatch?

Google Nexus Smartwatch concept

If not, and the smartwatch does come from Google itself, then perhaps it’ll work with software similar to what’s installed on Google Glass. Rumors have said the watch will be tightly integrated with Google Now, and we’d also expect it to display the usual notifications associated with smartwatches. Another feature taken from Glass and Google Now is voice control, which could also be used to operate the watch.

What about Motorola?

Up until recently, Google owned Motorola, and its influence shone through in the Moto X and the Moto G smartphones, two of the very best Android devices launched in 2013. Even though Google sold Motorola, any products already in development could still make it through to production, just like they did when Google purchased it a couple years ago. Still, Google may have been planning to release its smartwatch through Motorola, and rumors have already spread indicating Motorola has ambitions in the wearable zone.

Rumors have already spread indicating Motorola has ambitions in the wearable zone.

In July 2013, Motorola advertised a senior director level job within a “new world class wearables design group.” The job ad was removed soon after its existence was widely publicized. Android blogger Taylor Wimberly posted on his Google+ page later in the month that Motorola’s watch had been named the Moto xWatch, and had been slated for release alongside the Moto X phone.

The timing of Motorola’s job ad and the apparent cancelation of the Moto xWatch could be connected. Perhaps the watch was left over from the pre-Google age at Motorola, and either wasn’t up to Google’s standards, or clashed with its own plans. The former would explain Motorola’s keenness to bolster the team. There’s always the chance that when Lenovo moves in, the watch could be canceled once again.

Google’s smartwatch could be a Gem

At the very end of October 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported Google’s smartwatch was almost ready to make its way down the production line, and the firm was in talks with several suppliers. Quoting anonymous sources close to Google, it stated the watch would run Android and use Google Now’s clever prediction system to provide detailed information to the wearer.

Google’s apparent focus with its own smartwatch is to increase usefulness, and decrease the amount of times it needs to visit the charger. These are long-standing Google targets, and Larry Page highlighted them prior to the launch of the Moto X as smartphone problem areas it intended to address. The WSJ’s source said the watch could be ready for production “within months,” which based on the time of the report, could be anytime soon.

Artem Russakovskii, who writes for AndroidPolice.com, posted a rumor on his Google+ page a few weeks before the Journal’s article. He claimed the watch was codenamed Gem, but also indicated it would be announced along with Android 4.4 KitKat. A 9to5Google article indicated the release would happen “sooner rather than later,” but this was mid-October last year.

It certainly seems reasonable given the leaks and patents that Google has been working on a smartwatch. However, it has Google Glass, which performs a similar role but in a much more futuristic way, and has little to no current challengers on the market. Could it have pushed the smartwatch project aside, or in Motorola’s direction, to concentrate on Glass? The rumor mill has been quiet for several months, so it’s a possibility.

That’s all we know, but we’ll keep you updated here with new information on Google’s smartwatch when, or if, it arrives.

(Concept images and video courtesy of T3)

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