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Motorola smartwatch does Android Wear in the round

Mar 19, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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Motorola Mobility announced a round-faced Moto 360 smartwatch, based on Google’s new Android Wear platform and due this summer.

As expected, LG was first up to announce a smartwatch based on Google’s wearable platform, formally announced yesterday as Android Wear. But later in the day, Motorola Mobility stepped up with its own Android Wear smartwatch to join the LG G Watch: the Moto 360. While the sole image released by LG of the G Watch showed a fairly typical squarish, if relatively svelte, watch face, the Moto 360 offers something entirely different: a round-faced watch.



Moto 360 runs Android Wear
(click image to enlarge)

Motorola’s Moto 360 will arrive this coming summer, most likely trailing the LG G Watch, which is due in the second quarter. Despite releasing several images of the Moto 360, as well as a YouTube video, and a rotating 3D model, Motorola had few details on the watch. All we know is that it offers a round clock face, uses “premium materials,” and supports Android Wear features like Google Now and Google Maps integration. The Moto 360 will be “available in a variety of styles globally in Summer 2014, starting in the US,” says Motorola.

Android Wear enhances the way most current smartwatches work: as Bluetooth companions to an Android phone or tablet. The lightweight Android stack is based on individual screens called “cards,” and extends Android’s notification system in various ways. It provides stacked notifications of similar updates, and lets you view a “context stream” of update cards by swiping vertically.



Android “Context Stream” and “Cue Card” demos
(click images to view animation; source: Google)

Developers can also call on a multiple page option, letting uesrs swipe horizontally to bring up secondary notification cards. Such cards can include tappable buttons for taking action. Android Wear also lets users respond to a message with voice input or predefined text replies.

One of the key questions is whether the watches will offer sufficiently powerful microphones to bring Android Wear’s signature feature to life: voice-activated Google Now queries. Google has also managed to squeeze a version of Google Maps turn-by-turn directions onto the device, although this presumably requires an active Bluetooth connection to a Google Maps-enabled phone. Sensor support is also on the way, but this does not appear to figure much in the initial developer preview release.

Motorola was one of the first companies to release an Android-based smartwatch with its MotoACTV device several years ago, but like most smartwatch efforts aside from the lightweight, OS-free Pebble, it failed to gain traction. In recent years, Motorola has been owned by Google, but is now in the process of being sold to Lenovo. Assuming regulatory approval, the deal will make Lenovo the world’s third largest smartphone vendor, although it will trail far behind Samsung and Apple, with only about 6 percent of the market.

 
Back to basics (round screens)

Motorola reminds us that the wristwatch “first became a popular fashion accessory more than 100 years ago.” Younger consumers who grew up in the age of rectangular Casio faces and other fitness watch brands may not realize that until a few decades ago, watchfaces were almost always round, mimicking the shape of an analog clockface.


Vintage Zenith TV

The first TV screens were round, as were many of the displays seen in science fiction movies, but round computer screens have never had much of a chance in a world where print and video are delivered as rectangular media. A Revo-Round computer featuring a round screen appeared as a prototype in 2010, but never reached market. Bizarrely enough, the computer was built under the belief that a round screen would help reverse a feared loss of Asian facial characteristics due to exposure to rectangular computer screens.



Designing the Moto 360
(click image to enlarge)

A round screen is less of an obstacle with a minimalistic interface like Android Wear. The interface appears to have been developed with the assistance of Motorola, which passed along to Google lessons from the MotoACTV experiment. However, the Android Wear lineage is more clearly seen in Google’s acquisition of WIMM Labs, which unveiled a WIMM One concept watch back in 2011.

After the LG and Motorola watches, Asus, HTC, and surprisingly, Samsung, will announce products, says Google. Samsung recently announced its Tizen Linux-based Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches, due in April, and released the Tizen SDK for Wearable platform on Mar. 17.

Samsung has apparently decided the smartwatch market is too valuable not to hedge its bets on multiple platforms. The move does, however, throw further doubt about its commitment to Tizen, a commitment that has already been questioned now that Tizen smartphones have been indefinitely delayed.

Motorola’s 1:40 promotional video for the Moto 360 appears below.



Moto’s promo video: “Moto 360: It’s Time”

 
Further information

Motorola Mobility’s Moto 360 is due to ship globally this summer starting in the U.S. More information and notification sign-up may be found at the Moto 360 product page.
 

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