The Wall Street Journal has become the latest publication to claim that Google is developing a smartwatch, games console and media streaming device.
According to "people briefed on the matter," Google wants to extend the Android operating system's reach beyond the smartphone and tablet and wants to be able to challenge Apple just in case one of the hundreds of rumors surrounding its smartwatch, gaming and TV plans turns out to be true.
The FT reported back in March that Google had started work on an Android-powered smartwatch and that the company filed smartwatch patents back in 2011. There is currently a huge buzz around wrist-top computing, as well as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, LG, Intel, Sony, and Acer have all been linked, officially or otherwise, with the devices in recent months, although little has been written detailing general scenarios for their use, particularly their advantages over smartphones, to which they would be linked. To date, smartwatches that have been a hit, such as the Pebble, have been designed to serve a very specific purpose, such as being able to check directions or notifications while riding a bike, or monitoring performance during sports.
Media streaming device
Google has already tried and failed in this regard. The Nexus Q was meant to stream music from smartphones to stereos and images from tablets to TVs, just like Apple's Apple TV. However, despite being listed on the Google Play store for purchase for much of 2012, it was never officially released and has since been axed.
At the beginning of June, Droid Life reported that Google had learned from these mistakes and was gearing up to launch something called the Chromekey, a device no bigger than a USB thumb drive that plugs into a TV set's HDMI port and that would stream images and music from a tablet or smartphone to its screen. Droid Life also claimed that the diminutive device would cost $35, compared with $99 for an Apple TV.
Just like streaming, Google is no stranger in this segment. In 2010 it launched a new software platform, based on Android called Google TV, which it hoped manufacturers would adopt in order to create smart TVs either via direct integration in the next generation of TV sets or by installing the software on a standalone box.
The idea was that users could access the internet, download apps (including games) from the Google Play store, stream films, access a smart TV guide and use voice commands or an Android phone or tablet to control their TVs. Despite being adopted by Sony, LG and Samsung, three years on the platform has failed to capture consumers' imaginations. However, by building the hardware in house, as well as developing the software and connected services, Google could finally make the system work. What's more, adding Bluetooth support for games controllers would be very simple; and the latest discoveries in Apple's beta source code show that it could be plotting a similar path with the next generation of its mobile operating system, iOS7.
Regardless of how close to reality the rumors turn out to be, what is clear is that one of the next key consumer device battles will be fought in the living room. Despite a proliferation of mobile devices, the TV is still the center of attention -- the average US consumer watches four hours of TV a night. The latest Xbox and PlayStation consoles, due for official release just in time for the end-of-the-year holidays, are both designed to work as set-top boxes, with support for apps, internet access, movie streaming and even ultra-high-definition content, as much as they are geared up for game play. And just like Apple, Google knows that it will need to offer a compelling alternative to a console in order to compete for this most valuable of consumer spaces.