Project Watch: Will Google spark a smart watch revolution?


According to a report from Business Insider, Google might follow their venture into Android-powered eyewear with another piece of wearable computing: a smart watch. Sources close to the matter say the idea is only being explored in terms of how marketable such a piece of gear might be, with an actual product existing only in the conceptual phases.

The question, then, is twofold: a) is the smart watch a viable piece of technology, and b) what can Google do differently from previous manufacturers to better their odds at success?  Luckily, we have quite a few examples to draw from when looking at smart watches as a product class, from a few half-baked ideas to the Kickstarter-funded Pebble.

The Pebble might be considered the most successful smart watch yet, and that’s a major credit to the device considering that the project, which raised over $10 million in funding, is only now shipping to early supporters. On paper it has everything consumers could want from an advanced watch: sleek design, customizable watch faces, app integration. It can track your fitness activities or play back music, sync with your phone and provide notifications, or display text messages.

Like any good technology, the design builds on its predecessors, more fully realizing the concept. It takes the fitness tracking abilities of the MotoACTV and combines them with the sort of app integration and customization we saw with the Sony LiveView (and later improved with Sony’s SmartWatch). The idea can even be tracked all the way back to less “smart” wrist computers including an LG concept that never surfaced and Casio’s classic calculator watches.

The idea of the “James Bond” watch dates back decades, but we finally have the necessary components and robust mobile operating systems to pull it off. Apple is rumored to be developing a smart watch, a no brainer after a whole class of accessories sprouted up in order to turn the iPod nano into a wrist-mounted computer, and now it looks like Google could follow suit. So what might we expect from Google?

We need look no further than a patent filed by the tech giant detailing just that. Google’s concept utilizes a flip-up display with two screens. In the closed position the device might act more or less as a basic watch, providing the time and possibly notifications. Opening the watch would open a full range of capabilities. Android is a no-brainer to run the show.

But as with smartphones, Google’s concept has a chance at success not solely because of hardware. It’s Google’s wide range of services that would empower the watch, bringing Google Now functionality and location services to your wrist, easily accessible and integrated into your life. Like Project Glass, the idea would be that the user almost forgets they are wearing a computer.

As a parting note, check out this Google Time mockup developed independently by Adrian Maciburko. The design is far from what Google envisions in its patent but provides an idea of what a simple, watch-tailored Android interface could look like. Maciburko even provides a few ideas on how the user would interact with the device.

Will Google ever develop the smart watch to rule all smart watches? We would never put it past them. If they do, they would be wise to look to the previous successes and failures (as well as take a few notes from Maciburko’s design). The foundation for the smart watch revolution has already been laid.

[Thanks, Rinkesh, for initially tipping us off to this report!]


Kevin Krause
Pretty soon you'll know a lot about Kevin because his biography will actually be filled in!

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  1. i mean IDK…. smart phones are very popular and cool and useful as well NOW but i don’t think it’s time for the smart watch yet, if it were to come out in the next year or two i think it would suffer from the consumer market not being ready for it and become a niche item very quickly

  2. if I knew for a fact that Google was coming out with a smart watch I would cancel my order for Pebble and jump on board with much quickness. A Nexus watch sounds kind of sexy…

    1. Well that would be a bit hasty as you would probably have your Pebble for a long time before the Google one made it to market.

  3. Wow my first tipping made it into the article. Yay!!! :)

  4. Make it affordable and make it not suck. Personally I think the idea is stupid all round.

  5. The old Sony Live View isn’t a bad device, especially considering how much they cost ($25ish shipped) Makes for a cool toy without breaking the bank.

    The watch itself isn’t perfect and has many flaws, facebook & twitter don’t work using the built in app, but the plugin support makes it very useable. Allows me to read RSS/SMS/Email and get my android notifications on my watch. Gmaps too! Bluetooth seems better on the battery (as long as the thing is connected) in comparison to my Galaxy Note’s screen.

    Can’t wait for google to do something similar yet 1000% times better.

  6. Who wears a watch anymore? (besides the dudes who want to show off expensive manjewelry to help pick up shallow chicks)

    1. People who appreciate wearable pieces of art. I dropped 3 grand on a Baume et Mercier, not because it was shiny or diamond-encrusted, but because it was beautiful and elegant.

      1. So still man-jewelry, in other words.

        1. Not really. Sorry that you’re poor and don’t appreciate art.

          1. How darrreeee you! I’ll have you know that my designer macaroni and cheese bracelet is made from real _Kraft_ mac & cheese; not that cheap store-brand crap that the unwashed masses like so much. Hrmmmph.

  7. kinda following the Nano. In fact, GoogleTime should be removable from the wrist band. This is about the same as the android cameras.. I feel it’s a bit late to the market.

  8. We have the technology, we can build it!

  9. I love watches like women love purses!

  10. Why not Google Now would be a great addition to a nice Breitling :-)

  11. What? I retired my watch when I got my smartphone.

  12. I’m interested in a watch as an extension of the smartphone and google glass experience.

    A watch could provide a nice way to video chat with people.

  13. I would start wearing a watch again if Google made one

  14. *dusts off yellow fedora and trench coat*

  15. Our “watches” moved from our pockets to our wrists…then back to our pockets via phones. Now they are attempting to move back to our wrists! Make up your mind!

    1. Yeah, stop giving us choice!

  16. I love the idea of a smart watch. There are some people who really need a watch. I am a teacher and I live and die by the time. I am looking at my watch constantly to know how much time I have left for a certain activity. I have tried a couple smart watches, and the ones I have tried just weren’t ready for primetime. But, when they get a watch that is good and that works I will be all over it.
    Make it powerful enough, and have a smooth interface. Also have two layers to the screen. Have one layer be a standard watch that takes up little very little battery, and then as soon as you turn on the os powered part of the watch the other layer shuts off.

  17. The nexus 2

  18. don’t use watches so this is pretty irrelevant to me

  19. i could see this happen, especially if they plan to help it control google glass in a way

  20. Good idea if priced right

  21. I think everyone is going about this wrong wrong wrong….. Have I said that enough. I already have a 5.5 inch hd display in my pocket what makes us want to mess with a 1.5 inch screen. Make the watch a quick glance as a watch should be not something I’m going to have to tap on or scroll with. I’ve used smart watches and after a few minutes your like why don’t I just pull out the hd display.
    Give me the abiity to customize the screen with basic information on one main screen that prevents me from reaching for my phone that I would have reached for to find that I had no notifications anyway.

  22. I fell kind of left out by people talking about how watches were last worn a decade ago. I’m still wearing my 12 dollar casio with pride. (:

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