MOUNTAIN VIEW -- Google's plans to release free Android-based software tools for wearable technology will accelerate the delivery of smart watches and similar devices into the mass market within the next year, according to tech analysts.
Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst in Forrester's application development and delivery group, counts four Fitbit activity trackers among his family, along with a Pebble smart watch that his son wears at MIT.
So Hammond believes the rush to wearable technology "is already moving pretty fast."
But Google's announcement, he said, has the potential to "push wearable technology into mainstream acceptance. It can't do anything but accelerate an already fast-moving space."
Google's Android operating system already powers most of the world's smart phones, and now Google is borrowing a page from its own playbook that could speed up development of wearable technology, including Google Glass and Google's planned smart watch.
At the South by Southwest conference Sunday, Google announced it will release an Android-based software development kit for wearable devices within two weeks, leading Al Hilwa of IDC to predict that "the era of wearables (will) see its heyday beginning in the first half of 2015."
Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research was even more bullish.
"The world could be very different six to eight months from now," Chowdhry said.
But Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst with TECHnalysis Research, was wary that Google's success with Android-based smart phones and tablets can be translated into wearable devices because of the challenges of converting smart phone technology into something as small as a wristwatch.
"Most watches are less than two inches diagonally that you look at several feet from your eyes," O'Donnell said. "With something that's that dramatically cut down, you cannot possibly leverage any existing applications. You have to start completely from scratch. It's going to be a completely different animal than Android."
Google already has invited developers to use elements of Android in developing apps for Google Glass, Hilwa said.
And some niche wearable devices already on the market, such as the Pebble and Fitbit, use their own unique operating systems, O'Donnell said.
Whatever hardware results from Google's software development kit also will have the additional problem of attracting ads to screens much smaller than current smart phones and tablets, which continue to struggle to generate ad revenue, O'Donnell said.
"How many apps can you launch on a screen that's only two inches big?" he said. "And you can't possibly put ads on a screen that small that anyone can see."
Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.