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Get ready for the summer of smartwatches

The years of speculation, wishful thinking and predictions are over. The smartwatch is finally here.

May 31, 2014 07:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Smartwatches have been around for a while, but on the lunatic fringe. Crazed gadget fans have been seeking them out for years. But nobody else.

Looking at the industry, you'll find a minority of big consumer electronics and computer companies in the smartwatch business, and their offerings are clearly not suitable for mainstream users.

It all changes this summer.

First, let's have a look at the smartwatch universe as it exists today. Then, we'll see how the category will come to life over the coming few months.

What's wrong with the smartwatch market?

Today's smartwatches are, for the most part, way too bulky and clunky, and they involve way too many trade-offs to make them widely accepted consumer electronics products.

(Note that in recent months it's become standard to differentiate between smartwatches and fitness bands. In this column, I'm talking only about smartwatches.)

The leading smartwatches include the Samsung Gear 2, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo, the Sony SmartWatch 2, the Pebble Steel, the Martian Voice Command, the Martian Notifier, the Cookoo, the I'm Watch and a few others.

The watches that are more full-featured, such as the Samsung and Sony products, tend to be massive and dorky looking. The relatively elegant options, like those from Pebble or Martian, have limited screens and minimal functionality.

None are widely supported by thriving app ecosystems. Very few are acceptable to most women.

And each product has random limitations all its own -- for example, the Samsung watches interact only with a limited number of Samsung phones.

What happens this summer

Today, none of the world's biggest mobile operating system companies are selling smartwatches, nor are their OEM partners selling them. Of course, those companies are Google, Apple and Microsoft.

In March, Google announced a version of Android for wearable computers (and especially smartwatches) called Android Wear. The first Android Wear watches are expected this summer.

Google has already announced partners for Android Wear, including Samsung, LG Electronics, Fossil, HTC, Asus and others. With all of these major companies building on the Android Wear operating system, it becomes a more attractive platform for app developers.

What's extremely powerful about Android Wear is the development platform and Google's intention to drive huge usage of its development tools and resources. Only app developers (and lots of them) can make the smartwatch category come to life, and Android Wear is already off to a strong start.

I'm sure we'll hear a lot more about Android Wear at Google's upcoming developer conference, Google I/O (which I plan to cover).

One of the best features of the Android Wear SDK is that it allows for round watches. Google's own Motorola is making the best-known round Android Wear watch, called the Moto 360. (Motorola will soon be a Lenovo company.) The Moto 360 is scheduled to come out this summer.

I believe that round watches will dominate the category because they're more likely to look like elegant, traditional watches, rather than boxy, dorky gadgets lashed to the wrist.

LG will make one of the first Android Wear devices, and its first watch, called the LG G watch, will be square.



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