Upgrading old watches would be the worst thing to happen to the new Wear OS

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

You hate to hear it. I actually hate to say it. Nevertheless, updating any existing watches, whether they run Wear OS or Samsung's Tizen, to the new platform will do nothing but hold the platform back and keep it from reaching its full potential.

This sucks, but it's still true. You might have the best Android smartwatch or a new Galaxy Watch 3 and feel like you've been duped if you don't get the update everyone really wants, but you shouldn't feel this way. That doesn't matter, though, and I'd probably feel the same way. We're all secretly hoping for some sort of solution, but the solution is that trying to get the new software onto existing hardware is a continuation of the thing that made the current version of Wear OS so bad — worrying about making it run on underpowered and underperforming hardware.

We thought a solution was found when Qualcomm announced expensive new chips to make watches running Wear OS more proficient. But then most companies didn't bother, and it didn't really make much of a difference for those that did. All one needs to do is look at the other two smartwatch platforms that are successful. Samsung and Apple both made hardware, capabilities, and software as a package for success.

This is how it should be done if you want a capable and long-lasting device. Watches are tiny, with tiny batteries, and need tiny but efficient hardware inside to make use of it. Companies may say there are plans to update existing devices and Qualcomm may say that current hardware is capable, and I can say both are wrong. What isn't in dispute is that Apple and Samsung both built devices that sold a lot better than anything running Wear OS, and there were a lot fewer people complaining about them.

Wear Os 2021 Launcher Gif

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Wear OS watchmakers never had that luxury. The hardware has to be generic off-the-shelf parts, and another company is in charge of all of the software — and it was two different companies. Fossil, for example, could have made a great Galaxy Watch because it would have sourced everything for the platform from Samsung. There's a reason Wear OS failed, and that reason was chasing the lowest in everything: buying the parts with the lowest price, trying to make new features work on devices with low-cost and low-performance parts inside.

Is it a hard pill to swallow? Yep. Especially if you recently bought a new watch from Samsung. Everyone assumes that Samsung will be building out the initial hardware for the first "new" Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 because the company will be releasing the first watch to use the new platform. I guess it technically could have a Qualcomm chip or some generic ... no, it won't. Instead, it will have a Samsung-built SoC inside that could be very close to the Samsung chip inside the last generation of the Galaxy Watch. Maybe even using the same parts. But there will be a new configuration.

We've already been told this — Wear OS will have a platform-wide (meaning every single watch will have access to it) continuous heart-rate monitoring ability. That means a dedicated processor core of some sort will never stop working and using the battery to check your heart rate constantly. Software can't do this on its own, and there has to be a hardware component involved unless you want to charge your watch 3 times a day.

Because Google is involved, I'm betting this isn't the only computation that needs to run 24/7. Google leans on AI to do almost everything, and on-device AI needs hardware to happen. You don't want to have to tap an icon to make your watch start monitoring your fitness, and you don't want to eat the battery up in 4 hours because the device is always monitoring. Hardware, hardware, hardware. Everything I read or watch or hear about the new Wear OS platform just screams hardware at me.

The watch you may have right now will still work as well (or as poorly) as it did when you first opened the box, and neither Samsung nor Google has said they plan to stop supporting existing devices. So use it, sell it, whatever works best for you, but don't wish for an update that would probably make everything worse.

This is the attitude that makes me genuinely excited for the new Wear OS, and I haven't cared about it for a long time. Seeing Google work with Samsung to redesign the platform — the software, the hardware, and the capabilities — is the kick Wear OS needed if it is ever going to be great. I feel for everyone who just spent money, and then Google and Samsung come in and "BAM! new stuff better than old stuff!" but that's just how consumer electronics, especially mobile and wearable devices, work.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

18 Comments
  • On the other side of the equation, this feeds into the existing e-waste issues that fly in the face of all the green initiatives Samsung, Google, etc crow about.
  • Exactly. They should've continued making terrible Wear OS products that tens of thousands of people would buy only to throw away in a few weeks because performance was terrible and updates non-existent. How dare they come up with a strategy to make great products that will last for years instead.
  • It's sad, Jerry, but I mostly agree. I got a Galaxy Watch 3 just before their announcement and the optimist in me wants to believe it really wouldn't hurt to at least update the last generation of hardware. If the rumored price tag of the new watch is accurate, I'll still be using my GW3 for a while.
  • I know in my heart of hearts that you are essentially correct, and I still want it for my original galaxy watch. What is up with that?
  • It makes sense that google is abandoning outdated hardware. But from a user's perspective, I can either go the google route and hope it works out this time. Or I can just go the apple route which had an excellent track record of keeping their device updated.
  • Well, looks like I'm ditching my Fossil watch I got for Christmas and heading back to Fitbit.
  • It remains to be seen if this new hardware and software makes a difference... If performance is sluggish and battery life is not as good as my Galaxy Watch running Tizen then I won't be changing... So many false dawn's with Wear OS... I will probably swap to a Garmin Fenix once my Galaxy Watch comes to the end of it's life if this flops...
  • The Google wearables trajectory reminds me so much of Windows Phone. A difference being Google had the developers, large and small on board and still managed to lose the plot. Google had even managed to outsource the risk taking in manufacturing devices. It hasn't helped. Abandoning your supporters, for example the consumers, is never a good idea. Moving on to a new platform may be necessary, but correcting the buggy releases for the current generation devices is probably a good idea, too. Unlike phones wearables are not must haves but nice to haves. If consumers feel scorned or fooled, they are unlikely to return. There are other alternatives. Finally, claiming the next greatest version can only be done so many times before buyers doubt takes root and once that's there it's going to be hard to overcome.
  • Bingo, Spot on
  • "Google had even managed to outsource the risk taking in manufacturing devices." So did MS with Windows Phone. Initially there were Nokia, Samsung, LG and others, making WP. Late in the game MS bought Nokia, and then self branded.
  • I have to agree with this, this new platform should be a fresh start for Android Smartwatches rather than trying to shoe horn a the new Wear or One UI or whatever it's called on to underpowered hardware. It matters little to me unless Google comes out with a Pixel Watch or I'll get a Fitbit instead.
  • Well, news that Google and Samsung will not be updating their older watches shouldn't come as a surprise. Hopefully some features will trickle down. The huge Wear update several years ago featuring the tiles and timeline (swiping right) was initially slated for a handful of watches but ended up all watches back to the Moto 360 g2 were updated. So don't be surprised if certain features maybe as skins will hit the older watches. I'm perfectly satisfied with all my Wear watches. Getting 2 days battery from recent updates and disabling the Fit app. Unless the battery life gets into the 5+ days I'm content staying with my current Wear watches, and GW3. Good move by Samsung migrating to Wear as Tizen was a very frustrating OS.
  • No violation of the good faith clause found at this time.
  • Nope. This is a watch. Im not buying a new one everytime I turn around. You get at least 5 years out of them or Im not buying from you again.
  • Still rockin by Gear S3, and it does everything I want other then having easy access to the Assistant. I don't expect it to get the update by any means, but I am also now having to wait until Samsung puts out a similar watch. They have flipped between offering a rotating bezel one year to not the next. Hope that next year we see something as more of a replacement for us rotating bezel lovers and I might upgrade then.
  • Have to disagree that the new chip didn't make much of a difference. There is a huge difference, and things that were sluggish before are now satisfyingly quick. Everyday wearer who loves the responsiveness and 4 to 45 day battery life.
  • Mostly agree. Not really a disagreement but smart watches are dead to me for awhile. Mostly I want comfort, fitness tracking, some notifications, and no need to think about the charge level. My Huawei Watch Fit does these. All of the extras smart watches deliver are not worth another thing to charge daily. I'll sit out of the smartwatch game for a few years
  • I am ending a two year experiment with iOS, and, more recently, an apple watch. I just sold my 12 Pro Max, and the watch is for sale, and I am back to rocking my old Note 9, for now. Looking at the state of Wear OS...wow...I am not encouraged. And the hardware itself is clunky and full of knobs and perturbances and spinning bezels and all that....is anyone at Samsung/Google/Anybody else paying attention to what Apple is doing? A nice, sleek, smooth, square-ish device that operates with a minimum of buttons and moving parts...I get that they dont want to COPY Apple watch..and I dont want them to, I wasn't overly impressed with the apple watch, especially for exercise, my old Vivoactive 3 was better for that than my apple watch was...but damn....One thing Apple does so well is you KNOW when you see an apple watch. The android/tizen watches all look the same, you cant tell a Vivoactive from a ticwatch from a Galaxy Watch. Maybe, at 51 years of age, I am just old and crochety. But I want to be WOWED by my hardware. Throw me a bone, here, Wear OS!