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Samsung and Google's Wear OS 3 secrecy has foiled its success this year

Fossil Gen 6 Halloween Watch Face
Fossil Gen 6 Halloween Watch Face (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Despite the excitement back in early summer, 2021 will go down as yet another ho-hum year for Google's Wear OS platform. It didn't have to be this way, but Google seems to have some grand last-ditch effort planned that few know about — except for Samsung — and quite honestly, I've given up hope that Google will ever get things right at this point.

The unfortunate thing is that everything was lined up in Google's favor this year. The announcement and subsequent launch of the Galaxy Watch 4 reignited a flurry of interest in smartwatches on Android and has proven that Android users want a good smartwatch. It's just a shame that Samsung is still reserving some features only for people who use its smartphones.

The Apple Watch Series 7 is yet another boring, derivative update to Apple's already bland-looking square smartwatch and shows that, while Apple absolutely nailed the software and UX, the company is largely coasting on its success and monopoly within its own ecosystem.

But Google and Samsung seem to have made a rather alarming backroom deal that favors the Korean tech giant and has doomed the successes of Google's once-many hardware partners in the process.

Send us a savior

Wear Os 3 Google Pixel Watch Savior

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Wear OS 3, by most accounts, has been hailed as the savior of Android smartwatches. But the way Google has handled it, in partnership with Samsung, is proving to be a trainwreck in slow motion. Instead of debuting on the best Android smartwatches right away, Google partnered with Samsung on the Galaxy Watch 4 to give Samsung a roughly 6-month exclusive window to the latest OS update.

Wear OS's continuity across watch hardware used to be a strength. Ultimately, it's become the platform's greatest crux.

The reason for this is, almost assuredly, that Samsung has been the one carrying the torch for Android smartwatches. While that may be true on the sales front, there are plenty of non-Samsung users in the Android ecosystem. Wear OS 3 on Samsung's watches was a huge step in making them more usable on non-Samsung Android phones, but it's still an experience with limitations that shouldn't exist.

This is exactly why Google should have brought other players in from the get-go. As it stands, watches like the Fossil Gen 6 are unnecessarily hampered by a conspicuous lack of the latest OS — a bullet point on a spec list that looks awful by any metric.

What was once a strength of the Wear OS platform has become its biggest crux. That being, all Wear OS-powered smartwatches ran the same OS, with the same features and, primarily, the same look. No manufacturer could customize the OS in any meaningful way, although Google did allow slight color scheme modifications after some years.

Because of that, it made little sense to release a Pixel Watch when the only differentiating factor would be the hardware, as Chris Wedel put it in a recent article calling for Google to release the Pixel Watch already.

So while the timing would have been perfect, it seems Google had a bit more up its sleeve when it made a deal with Samsung over Wear OS 3 and its co-development.

Google's backroom deal with Samsung kept its other hardware players in the dark.

As former editor-in-chief Daniel Bader mentioned on Android Central podcast episode 542, we were made aware that Google and Samsung worked secretly on Wear OS 3 up until the public announcement at Google I/O 2021.

This source informed us that non-Samsung vendors, such as Mobvoi and Fossil, were not made aware of the new update until that public announcement. We've since contacted Mobvoi and Fossil, but neither company was willing to comment on the information given to Android Central.

Google's big gamble on 2022

Fossil Gen 6 Explore Wear Os

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

All this spells something big on the horizon for Google. The company just launched the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, two phones with massive design changes from their predecessors and the first time Google used its own silicon in a phone.

Google is putting the pieces in motion for a massive smartwatch resurgence in early 2022.

Couple that with the announcement of Android 12L — a special flavor of Android specifically designed to enhance the tablet and foldable device experience — which is set to launch early next year along with "the next wave of foldables," as Google specifically put it.

Given that no Wear OS watch manufacturer has yet to confirm a specific launch date for Wear OS 3, it's highly likely that we won't see any of these watches ship a major update until early 2022. The magic six-month exclusivity window that Samsung seems to have netted itself also aligns nicely with the next big moves Google is making with Android and its following hardware, the Pixel Fold.

This takes us to a place I'm rather tired of hearing about but, unfortunately for my sanity, makes the most sense: a Pixel Watch will launch sometime early next year alongside (or near) the time that Wear OS 3 arrives on the rest of the watches from Mobvoi and Fossil.

But where does that leave Wear OS users right now? Floundering in the mud, of course, and it's sad to see Google treat its devoted users this way. Hoping for a New Years Resolution seems like a far-flung star that we've wished on for years, but, ultimately, it's all we've got right now.

While there's no real direct competition between Apple and Google in the watch segment — they are, of course, mutually exclusive to each OS — there's little doubt that Google has lost customers because of its wearables apprehension. So while 2021 could have been the breakthrough year for Wear OS 3 if Google played it right, 2022 seems like a decent second chance. And, hey, maybe Google will even have some juicy new Wear OS 3 FitBit tidbits to grace its users with.

Don't let us down, Google.

Nicholas Sutrich
Nicholas Sutrich
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu
12 Comments
  • Wearos3 skin is a joke
  • I'm convinced Google doesn't really want wear os to succeed. What's the best possible outcome? Samsung, fossil, etc end up putting out a fantastic watch that eats into Fitbit sales? I'm fairly certain at this point that the closest we'll get to a pixel watch is a more Google centric (maybe wear os based) versa.
    As for Samsung... Of course they're going to lock certain features behind their ecosystem. That's part of building an ecosystem. If they wouldn't have been allowed to do that than what reason outside of money would they have to switch from tizen?
  • Idk when ya'll last used WearOS & on what device, but my TWP3 w/ the 4100 has been a beast (2100/3100 were unusable because of a combination of bad processor & OS) & it's been out for a while (the new updated version runs the 4100+). As far as I've seen with reviews (apps & devices) Samsung customers have been having nothing but problems & incompatibility issues.... my Ticwatch has been working fine. The last WearOS update to HMR2 v. 2.32 has been great even without Samsung's "help".
  • I have been using a new Galaxy Watch 4 Classic since the launch day in August, and it is superb, thank you Samsung, Google and Wear OS3..
    Mine is paired with a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and has had no glitches, or any kind of software or hardware related problems of any kind.
    It has had several updates in this time, and the functionality, and performance keeps getting better and better.
    With the assistance of XDA Developers and theirexcellent software downloads and instructions, I even now have BP and ECG monitoring working perfectly, where in Thailand, Samsung have not yet gained release approval from the Thai FDA.
    It is truly an amazing Smartwatch, and I am delighted with it, so recommend if you already have a Samsung phone, buying this excellent Watch 4 is a no brainer
  • Fossil watches are not hampered by the lack of Wear OS 3, but by way undersized battery, ugly, small screen in an unnecessarily huge case and general bad reputation because of past quality issues. There are good Wear OS watches by Suunto and Mobvoi's TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra, with sufficient battery, good feature set, and actual added value, which can compete with Samsung's Galaxy Watch 4. In reality what hampers Wear OS at the root is Google's Assistant team refusing to fix their app on Wear OS. It is mind-blowing that Google Ass is still missing from the Galaxy Watch 4 months after its release, and the constant "Something went wrong" and "I cannot do that anymore" messages on watches which do have Google's Ass. The saving grace on the Galaxy Watch 4 is Bixby, because as incomplete as it is, it's miles more capable at this point than Google Ass on any other Wear OS watch. Wear OS 3 is basically nothing. Samsung (as Mobvoi and Suunto) have added much more to Wear OS, and these are the watches that are worth to buy. Fossil and Google are the two bad actors, who gave Wear OS such a bad name.
  • What about Google assistant on Galaxy watch 4?
  • "The Apple Watch Series 7 is yet another boring, derivative update to Apple's already bland-looking square smartwatch and shows that, while Apple absolutely nailed the software and UX, the company is largely coasting on its success and monopoly within its own ecosystem." Why is this thrown in there...lol. Just felt the need to bash Apple a little because your beloved Google can't keep up...lol. This has nothing to do with Google or Wear. Don't be jealous. Just buy an iPhone and come on over to the better side. Its way more consistent over here.
  • I disagree entirely with the theme of this article. My guess is Samsung got a 6 month exclusive because it was intricately involved in the development and improvement of Wear OS. I think you will look back on it and realize that Samsung saved Wear OS not diminished it.
  • This article conveys what I have been perplexed by these past 12 months.... My excitement is now gone and will begrudgingly wait til w3 comes to other watches (Mobvoi with their outstanding battery life).
  • Don't wait. You'll be mad at yourself if you do! I was going to wait, but my brother went back to Apple and gave my his GW4 Classic, for let's just say, a song... My Ticwatch Pro may never see use again! GW4 Classic is so much better! In EVERY way!
  • My TicWatch E3 is an excellent tool. I'm not that fond of the screen though as my original TicWatch E has a much better OLED screen. The E3's screen is sharp but isn't an OLED like the original E. Otherwise though, it's fast, has great features and does a very good job of tracking my fitness and sleep activities. The primary thing I wish Wear could figure out is how to automatically discern between drumming and walking or running. I'm a drummer and my practice time artificially inflates my step count.
  • Don't wait. I was able to score a GW4 Classic. I put down my Ticwatch Pro, for it, and with three day battery (with full Smart capabilities, not just digital time/Date), better apps, and services, Samsung Pay, ECG, Blood Oxygen sensors, and more, and so much faster. I was never going to buy a Tizen Watch, even though I have a Galaxy Note20 Ultra, and my last phone was a Note 9. Now, I have a beast of a watch! The sleep monitoring features as well as all the new fitness features (Samsung's, not Google) are awesome! I finally get my email, messages, and notifications, delivered in a usable way, unlike WearOS 1, and 2. If Samsung did all this, they deserve 6-months to capitalize, form their efforts. Because Heaven-knows, that Google wasn't doing ANYTHING, and WearOS, was dying on the vine. This watch does all the things I was a bit envious of Apple Watch Users, for. I feel like I have a real, workable device now, that does more than just let me know I need to check my phone...