Gigaom

Why It’s Time for a Google Smart Watch


The first combined computer-calculator and wristwatch to be produced, on show at the International Watch and Jewellery Trades Fair at Wembley, London in 1977

Photograph by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The first combined computer-calculator and wristwatch to be produced, on show at the International Watch and Jewellery Trades Fair at Wembley, London in 1977

Google is exploring the idea of making a smart watch, according to a Business Insider source. The unnamed source suggests that Google (GOOG) is researching how to market such a device, and BI notes certain relevant patents Google has that would support such a product. Even with the report, which I’d consider a rumor at this point, now’s the time for a Google smart watch for a number of reasons I can think of. The biggest one? Google already has a smart watch on the market.

I’m talking about the Motorola MotoActv, the part smart watch, part exercise tracker that I bought nearly a year ago. Although Google has kept Motorola as a separate business division since purchasing the company in 2011, whatever Motorola makes is, for all intents and purposes, a Google product. The watch also runs a highly customized version of Android. In fact, it has been one of the most stable Android devices I’ve ever used.

I originally bought the watch to track my running activities, because it’s ideal for that. Inside the watch are various sensors and radios, including Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and an accelerometer. Flash storage of 8 GB or 16 GB adds room for music tracks, which can be heard through wired or wireless headphones. The software also supports my golf habit, tracking my scores and shots and providing detailed distance to the pin or to various golf hazards.

Later I began wearing the watch every day when Motorola added support for the companion Android app for handsets built by other manufacturers. All of a sudden, my exercise tracker started notifying me of incoming messages, mail, tweets, and upcoming calendar events. And it works well. Google could easily advance the device, features, and software, because it has a solid product to start with.

The second reason I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Google smart watch? The company really isn’t yet part of the wearable device market that’s gathering steam. Yes, Google’s Project Glass is an entry here, but at $1,500 for a developer edition, it’s not a consumer device yet. It will take time before these high-tech glasses appear on retail shelves, if they ever do. And even if they do, they’re not likely to be part of the “quantified self” concept. A watch like the MotoActv is, because it captures personal data such as steps taken, calories burned, and more.

That reason alone is a good one for Google to design such a device. The company thrives on gathering and aggregating the world’s data, but it really doesn’t have a good hook on health data. Even if Google could sell a smart watch to just 10 percent of Android device owners, it would have access to quantified self data of more than 50 million individuals a year, based on the 1.5 million Android devices that are activated every day. That’s some big data.

Since Google could easily build off of the existing MotoActv watch, I don’t think it would take too much time or effort to improve the device quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we see a Google smart watch at this year’s Google I/O event, in fact. Time will tell, of course.

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