Google purposefully didn’t reveal more during this year's I/O presentation about what it’s doing with Wear OS 3 (and if any more devices are going to get it), but leading industry experts say that was a calculated decision. They note that the cyclical nature of when certain devices are launched plays a key role in why we won’t hear about the software platform until later this year.
An underlying plan?
Google announced Wear OS 3 last year and Samsung then launched the first smartwatch, the Galaxy Watch 4, to house Google’s revamped software. While there have been software updates to the Galaxy Watch 4 (one of the best smartwatches out there) over the course of the past year, there haven’t been any announcements from manufacturers that plan to use Wear OS 3.
In fact, companies like Fossil and Mobvoi have still not received the update to use Wear OS 3 on their smartwatches. Android Central reached out to these two companies, but neither responded back in time for publication.
During this year’s I/O, the only announcement regarding Wear OS 3 was the forthcoming Emergency SOS feature for Wear OS, Google Wallet (which will be available on the platform), and Google Assistant becoming available on the Galaxy Watch 4. Google did say that more watches were coming with Wear OS 3, including Fossil, Montblanc, and Mobvoi, among others, but did not indicate anything more than that.
Anshel Sag, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says Google likely wanted to save anything to do with Wear OS 3 for the launch of the Pixel Watch, which is slated for sometime later this year — that would include partner details.
“It buys Google more time, plus it gets to talk about Pixel Watch and then mention the adjacent brands in a lesser capacity if that’s how Google ends up positioning the Pixel Watch,” he says.
Part of this decision is also because Wear OS 3 isn’t very new, Sujeong Lim, research analyst at Counterpoint Research, points out.
She notes that because it’s been around since last year’s Galaxy Watch 4 series, Google “probably wouldn’t have had to take it seriously this year at I/O.”
Watchmakers are targeting the holiday season
Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC's worldwide device tracker, notes that most manufacturers watch the nature of when products are typically launched to make major announcements about hardware and software.
Ubrani says that like many other products, the smartwatch market tends to be seasonal and as such, brands typically release products in the second half of the year.
“Making a big splash with Wear OS 3 now without product availability could sour some users or set the wrong expectations. Google’s partners are also likely to appreciate the lack of emphasis. Google teased the OS and products, but now partners have time to shape their products, marketing materials, and help set consumer expectations,” he says.
Ubrani adds that Google is also likely working with other smartphone vendors to create more Wear OS watches.
“The initial devices we see from Pixel, Samsung, Fossil, and others will also serve as a proof of concept for other partners so it’s important Google gets this right,” he notes.
Sag agrees, adding that because partners are looking to sell during the holiday season, that will likely be when hardware announcements will be made along with more news about Wear OS 3.
Not a big deal: Google might be using an older chip for the Pixel Watch
Recently, 9to5Google reported that a striking and surprising feature of the Pixel Watch is that Google plans to use an older SoC: most likely Samsung’s Exynos 9110 chipset, which first debuted in 2018 alongside the original Galaxy Watch.
This might come across as shocking or even confusing because consumers might not be attracted to a watch that has 2022 looks but houses 2018 hardware.
Sag however says it's possible that Google plans to release two different models with different hardware, just like we have multiple versions of the Pixel phones.
Ubrani adds that if it is true it still won’t be the end of the world or Google.
“As long as the Pixel watch doesn’t look and feel dated. If Wear OS 3 runs buttery smooth and has support for all the latest apps and features while providing competitive battery life, then it doesn’t matter what silicon is being used. If it truly is running older hardware, then let's just hope that Google has spent a lot of time optimizing Wear OS 3,” he says.
Lim also adds that even if the watch uses the older chipset, it’s probably because the development of the Pixel Watch started before the Exynos W920 was commercially available.
“Google has been preparing the Pixel Watch for quite some time,” she says. “Changing the design would delay the launch, which Google wouldn’t want. Google may not have included Qualcomm’s Wear 4100 as an option due to its close partnership with Samsung.”
It is worth adding that while there is a rumor that the Pixel Watch could use an older chipset, other rumors point to the watch having more RAM and storage than previous Wear OS smartwatches.
Don’t hold your breath…Wear OS 3 is probably not coming to older devices
Since we still have not heard anything about older watches getting an upgrade to the latest software, it is very possible that they may never get that update, Sag says.
“I believe that some watches may never get Wear OS 3 and that’s perfectly fine, lots of old phones never get the latest Android updates either,” he says.
Ubrani agrees, indicating he’s also less inclined to believe that Wear OS 3 will make its way to older devices.
That being said, he does think that perhaps some features or apps may be ported over.
“While users would love to see this happen, the reality is that the installed base is small and one could make the argument that a good chunk of them purchased their smartwatches for fashion first and tech second (looking at Fossil’s customers) so once again there’s less of an impetus to bring the latest version of OS to these devices,” he says.
Wherever Wear OS 3 is, Google needs to get future watch launches right
Avi Greengart, president and lead analyst at Techsponentialk, says that Google hasn’t ever been clear on the Wear OS upgrade path, making it problematic for consumers who are looking to make their next purchase.
“Consumers have not been able to factor this into their buying decisions. Google really ought to have a sense of urgency here. [Comparatively], Apple is iterating annually on the Apple Watch and once you buy an Apple Watch, you are significantly less likely to switch platforms to Android,” he says.
While it may seem like a very calculated approach as to why Google didn’t make much fanfare of Wear OS 3 during I/O, Sag says that when new watches do come out, it's important for Google to get it right.
“I think Google needs to nail this launch and make sure that the experience and software performance is up to par,” he says. “Google made too many mistakes and most users are not yet convinced that the company has gotten its act together on wearables yet.”
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Shruti Shekar is Android Central's managing editor. She was born in India, brought up in Singapore, but now lives in Toronto and couldn't be happier. She started her journalism career as a political reporter in Ottawa, Canada's capital, and then made her foray into tech journalism at MobileSyrup and most recently at Yahoo Finance Canada. When work isn't on her mind, she loves working out, reading thrillers, watching the Raptors, and planning what she's going to eat the next day.