While some would call it an inevitable eventuality, others were taken a bit aback when Google teased a wearable SDK at SXSW a couple weeks back, and later announced Android Wear. For those of you playing at home, Google has created no fewer than five variants of the Android OS tuned to a specific piece or style of hardware to date - Google TV, Chromecast (which does indeed run Android), Google Glass, Nexus Q, and now Android Wear.
The Moto 360
Motorola's upcoming 360 is undoubtedly the most striking smartwatch design we've ever seen. There simply isn't any arguing around it. With its circular display and "real watch" look, it really does make every other smartwatch out there seem like a dinosaur. How the Moto 360 will actually perform in the real world (and perhaps more importantly, what it will cost) remains to be seen, but I think it's safe to say that, for now, Motorola has successfully one-upped pretty much everyone in this space. And it's not just about Android Wear - by comparison, LG's Android Wear teaser image looks little different from any other smartwatch out there - rectangular, chunky, and frankly, unattractive.
The 360's closest competitor for looks is probably Samsung's Gear Fit, but its Tizen OS appears little different from the Android-based Gear OS of the previous generation, and let's be honest: Samsung really hasn't done anything with these devices that changes the smartwatch "game." They're tiny little underpowered smartphones boasting full-color touchscreens and a bit more hardware functionality than a Pebble, but with a fraction of the customization and app ecosystem. And that brings me to this week's question: when it all comes down to it, does your smartwatch's OS really matter to you?
Right now, Pebble remains the uncontested darling of the smartwatch world, having shipped hundreds of thousands of units to date. It boasts the largest app ecosystem of any smartwatch on the market, and it has a large community of devoted users and developers trying to make the experience better. Many members of said community probably could not care less that Pebble isn't running Android, and I'd deem an OS switch unlikely for the brand at this point - they're simply too established.
Samsung seems to be actively turning up its nose at Android Wear, as none of the company's now three smartwatches will run it, having chosen Tizen instead. And with Samsung's gargantuan ad budget, it's all but a given that the company is going to sell enough of these devices to at least get the wearable ball rolling with its most loyal fans. And should Apple releases a wearable, Android Wear will face another stiff competitor.
This does put Android Wear in something of an awkward spot - the world's single largest Android OEM doesn't appear interested in the platform, and established players like Pebble are unlikely to relinquish their grip on the profitability and control that comes with an independent platform. Motorola, LG, Sony, and perhaps HTC seem like good bets for Android wear partners (two having already been confirmed as such), but not one of these companies has a strong existing foothold in the wearable space. Really, Android Wear's success seems far from assured - smartwatches aren't the one-horse race Android walked in on after the iPhone was introduced.