Google Announces Android Wear to Power Smart Watches

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The software initially will be used in a new generation of smart watches from Samsung and other manufacturers -- predicted to become a $60 billion market by 2018.

In an indication that the market for wearable tech is solidifying, Google on Tuesday announced Android Wear, a version of its Android software that powers the majority of smart phones.

Android Wear initially will be used in smart watches manufactured by Samsung, Fossil and other partners, and will be optimized for notifications, weather updates and other interactions that can be quickly scanned without having to pull out a cell phone.

The current smart watches from Samsung, Sony and other manufacturers have received a lukewarm reception from consumers and critics due to their lack of functions.

Still, future devices are thought to hold great promise.

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Sales of wearable technology -- including fitness trackers like Nike’s FuelBand bracelet -- soared nearly 300 percent in 2012 to 8.3 million devices. In a 2013 report, technology analyst Generator Research predicted shipments of smart watches will reach 214 million devices with revenue of more than $60 billion by 2018. The report added that the new generation of smart phones will "redefine the category to the point that smart phones as we know them now will be supplanted by smart watches."

Silicon Valley insiders have long maintained that Apple is deep in development of its own smart watch and software, and Google's announcement of Android Wear was widely perceived as a preemptive move to enter the market before Apple.

Google already has targeted the wearable tech category with Google Glass, the controversial computer worn like a pair of glasses that can surf the web, send and receive texts, and take photos or videos through an integrated camera. The device’s photo and video capabilities have raised privacy and piracy concerns and calls for bans in casinos, bars and movie theaters.

Meanwhile, Google is aggressively seeking new markets for Android. Last year, it announced a partnership with Mercedes-Benz to integrate Google Glass with Mercedes' GPS navigation system to provide directions while driving that continue when the wearer exits the car.

At this year's International CES in Las Vegas, Audi announced a partnership to integrate Android into its cars' navigation systems.

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