Google Inc (GOOG) said on Tuesday that smartwatches based on its Android mobile software will be available later this year, enlisting a variety of partners and signaling the Internet company's intent to play a leading role in what could be the next big computing market.
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Google said it was partnering with several consumer electronics and technology companies, including Samsung Electronics Co, LG Electronics and Intel Corp, as well as with fashion company Fossil Group to develop the new line of watches.
The project to extend Android, the operating system used in more than three out of four smartphones sold worldwide, to wristwatches is called Android Wear, Google said.
A video posted on Google's blog showed people speaking into their watches to check sports scores, control music, send replies to text messages and even open their home garages.
By aligning itself with a broad spectrum of partners to develop the smartwatches, Google is hoping to replicate the success that helped make its free Android software the most popular smartphone operating system, analysts said.
The announcement comes as speculation swirls around iPhone-maker Apple Inc's plans on the wearable front. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has promised new "product categories" later this year, and the company is said to be working on a secretive smartwatch of its own.
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Many believe wearable computers represent the next big shift in technology, just as smartphones evolved from personal computers, but efforts by various companies so far have been met with mixed results.
Samsung was among the first to sell a smartwatch for consumers, though its maiden effort, the Galaxy Gear, was widely panned by reviewers.
Google's announcement "definitely gives wearables a status that it's a market in it's own right and it needs to be treated with the respect that a separate operating system branch gives it," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Kantar World Panel.
Google has also been developing Google Glass, a small stamp-sized screen attached to a pair of eyeglass frames. Google Glass can record video, access email, provide turn-by-turn driving directions and retrieve info from the Web by connecting wirelessly to a user's cell phone, but it has also raised concerns ranging from privacy intrusions to distracted driving
"We've barely scratched the surface of what's possible with mobile technology," Google said in a post on its official blog on Tuesday. "That's why we're so excited about wearables—they understand the context of the world around you, and you can interact with them simply and efficiently, with just a glance or a spoken word."
Among the more than ten other companies that are partnering with Google on Android watches are Motorola, HTC Corp, Asus, Qualcomm Inc, Broadcom Corp and Mediatek Inc.
Juniper Research expects more than 130 million smart wearable devices will ship by 2018. Moreover, global shipments of wearable "smart glasses" alone will reach 10 million each year by 2018, compared with an estimated 87,000 in 2013, according to the research firm.
Shares of Google were up 1 percent at $1204.66 in midday trading on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic with additional reporting by Noel Randewich, Editing by Franklin Paul and Sofina Mirza-Reid)