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Google Extends Android to Smartwatches

The Web giant is working with Fossil and others to bring wearable technology to the wrist.

Motorola’s Moto 360 smartwatch.

Google is staking its claim in the still-nascent, but promising category of wearable technology — and it’s tapped Fossil as a partner.

This story first appeared in the March 19, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Web giant unveiled a project called Android Wear aimed at boosting the company’s presence in wearable gadgets. The effort begins with watches and further burnishes Google’s fashion cred. (The company introduced its buzzy Google Glass with the help of Diane von Furstenberg in 2012).

“Most of us are rarely without our smartphones in hand,” wrote Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Android, Chrome and apps, on the company’s blog Tuesday. “These powerful supercomputers keep us connected to the world and the people we love. But we’re only at the beginning; we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with mobile technology.”

The existing Android operating system already works with hardware like smartphones, tablets and smartwatches — but Android Wear is a targeted technology designed specifically for wearable use, starting with watches, across vendors. Similarly, the Open Automotive Alliance was introduced earlier this year to bring Android to the automobile sector in a highly targeted way.

Google is already working with electronics firms Samsung, Asus, HTC, LG and Motorola; chip makers Broadcom, Imagination, Intel, Mediatek and Qualcomm, as well as fashion companies such as Fossil Group.

Watches powered by Android Wear are expected to be introduced later this year, and prices haven’t been released. Google’s basic Android operating system already has been used in wearable technology in the form of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatches. But Samsung last month revealed plans to switch from Android for the second generation of some of its smartwatches, releasing to software developers on Monday its own operating system called Tizen.

A YouTube video promoting Android Wear shows people tackling everyday problems with their watch — hailing a cab, opening a garage door, checking how long their commute will take, counting calories burned or replying to messages. The watches in the video also have touch screens.

The smartwatch, powered by the Google software, would deliver “info and suggestions you need, right when you need them,” Pichai said.

For Fossil, which has a more than $3 billion global business, the partnership with Google could prove to be a canny move if the category takes off, as some envision.

“Although still very much in the formative research and development stage, we are committed to playing an active role in the push toward wearable technology and helping to shape the fusion of fashion and technology,” said Greg McKelvey, chief marketing and strategy officer at Fossil Group.

The fashion and retail sectors increasingly appear to want to be at the forefront of this emerging category.

“A big, mainstream brand like Fossil makes sense,” said futurist Erica Orange, vice president at Weiner, Edrich, Brown Inc., of the partnership. “It gets [the smartwatch] outside of the tech bubble and makes it Main Street USA. Watches are such low-hanging fruit. It’s such a no-brainer. I think the big hurdle will then be in the clothing space, but I think [technology] will be embedded in accessories sooner.”

Orange said wearable technology was still in its infancy as a category, but could grow quickly once it finds its place.

“We’ll hit a tipping point, where it’s not going to be seen as techie and fringy and it will just be the way things are,” she said.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s chief executive officer Steven Kolb described the wearable market as “game-changing.” The CFDA teamed up with Intel Corp. in January on a wearable device, a smart bracelet designed by Opening Ceremony to be sold at Barneys New York. Along the same vein, the group launched an experience with Google in October that allowed users to purchase from a Google+ Hangouts on Air app featuring designers from von Furstenberg to Rachel Zoe to Rebecca Minkoff.

However, wearable technology still has a way to go before mass consumer adoption occurs.

Research from Harris Interactive showed that as of December, just 3 percent of males and 3 percent of females polled already owned a wearable device. Lower prices will likely attract more consumers, and 22 percent of males and 13 percent of females maintained they will purchase a device when it becomes more affordable. Another 9 percent will be moved to transact once the “bugs” have been worked out.

According to data from Cisco Systems, which looked at total wearable devices worldwide by region for 2013 and 2018, with the number in North America expected to increase from 9.1 million to 59.8 million. Worldwide, this number is expected to jump from 21.8 to 176.9 million.