Hold on tight, gang: After months of waiting and anticipation, Google's official push into the world of smartwatches has finally begun.
The Big G announced Android Wear, an extension of Android designed specifically for wearable devices, in a blog post earlier today. A preview developer kit is already available, and the first Android Wear-powered watches are slated to go on sale sometime this summer.
Google says it's working with a host of companies on Android Wear devices -- Asus, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, and even traditional watch-makers like Fossil. We've gotten a sneak peek at a couple of those manufacturers' efforts, including the impressively sleek-looking Moto 360:
It'll be a while before we know what Android Wear devices are actually like to use, but based on what we know so far, there are six significant reasons to be excited about Google's smartwatch effort.
The reasons may sound familiar.
That's because they're the same six qualities I described when Samsung was getting ready to launch its first smartwatch last year. The six qualities I said a smartwatch needs in order to succeed. The six qualities Samsung has largely failed to achieve with its smartwatches, thereby giving most consumers no real reason to buy them.
From the looks of it, Android Wear is poised to nail them all:
As I said last summer, a watch is also a fashion accessory. If it looks cheap, gaudy, or tacky -- either in its physical form or in what's on its screen -- people aren't going to want to wear it on their wrists.
Physical form is obviously going to vary from one Android Wear watch to the next, but Motorola's hardware design is enough to give me hope.
And as for the user interface, if it's anything like the simulations Google is showing in its promo videos, I'm certainly optimistic:
Which brings us to point #2:
No one wants complex commands and clunky menus on a watch-sized screen; the form needs to revolve around quick scanning and fast actions if it's going to provide a good user experience.
We won't know how well Android Wear actually works until we see it in action, but Google's early examples are pretty darn promising:
3. Smart notification management
What good is it to see notifications on your wrist if you still have to pull out your phone to deal with them? Most current smartwatches don't exactly deliver an elegant experience when it comes to that domain. Android Wear appears to offer some smarter and more powerful solutions, particularly since the platform is poised to work natively with Android's existing app notification system.
Which takes us to our next item...
4. Smart input
Let's be honest: No one wants to tap out messages on a tiny smartwatch screen. But really good voice input combined with a Moto X-style always-available "Okay, Google" command for quick actions could actually make a wrist-mounted device useful.
Android Wear uses Google technology to enable both.
5. Smart sensors
Android Wear will provide "a wide range of sensors" for apps to utilize, according to Google, including things like accelerometers and heart rate monitors.
Google's early demos suggest Android Wear will pop up notifications with info like calorie burn counts while you're exercising and offers for song identification when you're dancing (and/or being attacked by a flock of deranged pigeons). With any luck, that's just scratching the surface of the kinds of sensor-based features we'll see.
6. Smart context -- the real killer feature
Those first five qualities are almost basics that I assume any decent smartwatch should possess. This last one is the bonus that Google's in a fairly unique position to pull off well -- the real killer feature that could set its smartwatches apart and make them must-have gadgets.
In short, it's Google Now -- only optimized for your wrist and made more useful than ever. Cards popping up with info you need before you ever ask for it. Intelligent reminders based on where you are, what you're doing, and where you're going next.
Those of us who use Android are already familiar with how useful Google Now can be -- but on a phone, it's inherently limited to being useful only when you pick up and look at the device. On a watch, that barrier is essentially eliminated.
From the looks of it, Google Now will be the essence of Android Wear, with watches' home screens made up of Now-style cards that you can scroll through vertically. Swiping to the left on any card, meanwhile, lets you interact with it further.
For now, though, we can say this: It's gonna be an interesting summer -- and there's plenty of reason to be cautiously excited about what's ahead.