Exclusive: Google smartwatch is real, Gmail and Maps updates incoming

May 13, 2013
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Google Smartwatch 3D render concept

Leading into I/O, lots of information gets tossed around. Some of it is complete nonsense, later unearthed to be so. Some is solid information, and questioned thoroughly before being vetted as accurate.

Android Authority has recently spoken with sources close to Google regarding some of what is in store for us. We know, the ubiquitous “sources” moniker is tiresome, but had we not spoken to these folks ourselves, we wouldn’t feel confident in what we’re reporting.

The annual I/O conference always brings us great stuff, and this year should be no different. Now that you all know Hangouts is real, we’re looking to the next big thing. We may not see skydiving and bike tricks, but we will get some poignant future developments that have their roots at this year’s I/O. We’ll also see some various updates and tweaks. While perhaps minor, all changes represent a step forward, and Google is always focused on “what’s next”.

Finding yourself

Easily a top-tier Google service, Maps has long been fairly static on mobile. The UI hasn’t varied much in quite some time, but that’s all about to change. According to our sources, Maps is about to go full screen. Essentially, we’re set to get the iOS version of Maps, which is much prettier, on Android.

Rather than the bottom and top bar, Maps for mobile is said to have a floating search bar towards the top of the screen, with the navigation button to the right of it. The Android menu button (three dots, vertically aligned) will rest at the bottom right of the screen, and house all other functions associated with search.

These developments would more closely resemble the new desktop version we heard about not long ago. The only question remaining is whether or not searching via mobile will bring up cards like Google Now, as the desktop is said to do.

google maps ios iphone

Email me when you get the update

Gmail is also set for an update, and makes a move in a slightly different direction than we’re used to. It also mimics Maps a bit, going full screen. Gesture based and full screen seems to be the order of the day for Google apps.

One source tells us “it’s really cool, with a swipe from the left bringing up the menu.” That menu will house things like inbox, sent, draft, and labels. The bar at the top will still be there to make navigating multiple accounts easier, and will have the menu button to the right. So, like Maps, the bottom bar will go away and the functions housed in it will reside elsewhere. “I think they’re getting away from bottom bars” one source told us.

When I asked how this would affect swiping to delete an email function, we were told it wouldn’t. Swiping the menu in “requires touch from kind of off the screen, and swipe to delete is more of grabbing the email and swiping it away”. This reasoning makes sense, and utilizes Project Butter nicely. Think of it like the tablet version of Gmail, with the menu hiding.

gmail

It’s about time

We’ve heard it now and again, but the Android smartwatch is now in physical form. The watch has been shown in at least three different Google offices: Berlin, Manchester, and Mountain View. We were told the original watch rumors popped up when displayed in a rough form at the Berlin and Manchester offices. Having recently been shown off at the Mountain View campus, the watch is set for release sometime soon.

Our source reports some interesting tidbits about the watch. “Functionality will be very much like Glass”. When prompted for further info, our source tells us that while they haven’t experienced Glass, they’re aware of the interface. That interface relies on a type of card, a bit like Google Now, with swipes to the left telling you what is coming up.

Still not free of the smartphone

One of the values we see to a smartwatch would be the inclusion of radios, which Glass could then tether to, freeing us from smartphones. Is Google ready to take the leap? Are we going to see a completely alternate method for information consumption? “Still needs tethering”, our source tells us. “It’s not a standalone device yet. It needs to be tethered to a smartphone.”

If it uses the same interface as Glass, we’re left to wonder if it uses the same or similar Mirror API. We have no word on that.

Another nagging question we had was who made the watch. Google is usually fairly tight lipped about who manufacturers their hardware, but this one is no real secret. In fact, it doesn’t stray far from home.

Our source tells us, without hesitation, “Motorola”. While we have a bit of hesitation believing that, it makes quite a bit of sense. If wearable technology is Google’s new focus for mobile, Motorola making their smartwatch makes perfect sense.

Motorola made a very good smartwatch once upon a time, with their MOTOACTV watch a great offering. It was solidly made, and among the best on the market. Wearable technology was, at the time, not popular or welcome. Glass proves that times have changed, and opinions softened.

motorola motoactv smartwatch

Now what?

There was no solid answer as to when any of this would take place, or be available , but I/O would be a great time to do so. The apps are simply an update, and currently being “dogfooded”. If they’re stable, that’s no big deal to push an update.

The watch, however, is a different story. If it has been mass produced, we should see it as the splash at I/O. A Motorola produced watch would be subtly brilliant, and out of left field. We’ve been so consumed with the X Phone unicorn, it’s plausible that we’d all have missed that boat.

All of this sounds great, and we’re hopeful we see it sooner rather than later.

Stay tuned for more Google I/O coverage this week. Our Nate Swanner and Joshua Vergara will be in San Francisco to bring you the hottest information on all things Google.

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