Google May Launch Smart Watch Before Apple

New device would be a personal assistant, but will the price be right?

Visitors try out the new Galaxy Gear smartwatch at the Samsung stand at the IFA 2013 consumer electronics trade fair on Sept. 5, 2013, in Berlin, Germany.
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Google is reportedly in talks with Asian suppliers to begin mass production of a smart watch, which would expand its wearable device product line beyond Google Glass and would beat Apple to the punch on that company's rumored development of an "iWatch."

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Google's smart watch would operate on Android and use the Google Now personal assistant program to answer questions, offer recommendations and predict what information users need at a given time, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Smart watches are not new technology. Smart watch makers include Samsung, which sells the Galaxy Gear watch for prices starting at $299. Features include a camera on the watch.

Apple is reportedly developing an iWatch to compete with Google Glass in the wearable technology market, according to Bloomberg. Rumors about the device have buzzed for nearly a year, as Bloomberg reported in February that Apple has a team of about 100 product designers working on a smart watch. Apple has also sought to trademark the term "iWatch" in Japan, Bloomberg reported.

Microsoft could also have a shot at making a smart watch. Nokia submitted patent concepts for a smart watch in August 2012, tech blog The Verge reports, and Microsoft is slated to close a deal to acquire Nokia and its patents in early 2014.

Google could use its web service applications on a smart watch to improve consumer appetite for wearable tech, says Carolina Milanesi, a vice president for research at Gartner, a technology analysis firm. Google Glass is so far only available to application developers and a select list of users.

"A smart watch would be much more mass market than Glass will be for a while, both from a price and adoption acceptance perspective," Milanesi says. "It could be a good learning step for consumers to use apps and services to get them ready for Glass."

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Google Glass has enough in common with conventional mobile devices for a police officer in Temecula, Calif., to give a woman a ticket for wearing Glass while driving on Wednesday, which could be against California law for motor vehicles.

The danger in designing a smart watch is that the device might not offer the same convenience of a mobile phone, and it might cost more. Sometimes it is better to be first than right in the device world, but that is not the case with smart watches, says Jonathan Gaw, a research manager at market analysis firm International Data Corporation.

"What we've seen from other vendors so far have been solid but pretty conventional products, but what we need is a category-defining feature or design that compels people to buy, and it doesn't matter who brings it," Gaw says. "Consumers, in general, are not clamoring for a smart watch, and vendors so far haven't given them a reason to take a second look. Smart watches and wearable computing devices, as a whole, have the potential to be game-changers ... or to be the next Bluetooth headset."

If Google gets the price right, the smart watch using Google Now personal assistant could create a hands-free smart gear experience without the need to use a phone, says Angela McIntyre, a research director at Gartner.

"The big picture is that Google has the opportunity to learn more about what the user is doing through the smart watch collecting biometric data like steps you are taking and heart rate," McIntyre says. "The microphone could even be capturing sounds around you and help you understand what you might need or could be asking for. It might know you are in a restaurant since you might be asking about certain kind so food and it could offer certain recommendations."

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Wearable tech like smart watches needs to be more fashionable to appeal to consumers, McIntyre says.

"They should put some bling on it," she says. "It should look like a normal watch."

Apple has a reputation for pushing tech-design standards to the limits and creating demand for completely new kinds of products, like the iPod. That's why people wait in line for Apple products and why rumors of an iWatch are being so widely discussed. It's also why Google is more likely to debut a smart watch first, McIntyre says.