Wear OS is on the brink of becoming irrelevant

Android dudes
Android dudes (Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

If you have a job at a place like Android Central, people you know will come to you for tech advice. Sometimes we can give good advice — we know what phone can fit a person once they tell us what they want from it — other times we have to wing it because our friends and family think we should know about everything with a cord. I have no idea which travel iron or marine radio is the best. Sorry, Dale. We're walking encyclopedias when it comes to Android-powered products, though. We have to be because it's our job.

That's why I can't tell anyone they should buy a Wear OS watch right now — I think it's on the short path to becoming DOA. And since Apple's announcement spent a good bit of time on watches, people will be asking which one to buy.

The right answer is easy — buy an Apple Watch if you use an iPhone, buy a Samsung watch if you use Android. But why this is the easy answer bothers me because it doesn't have to be the right answer, and shouldn't be. But for now, at least, it just is.

Samsung Galaxy Watch

Samsung Galaxy Watch

Part of the reason is feature-based. Both Apple and Samsung are strong where a lot of folks want a wearable to be strong — fitness and health. WearOS can be, too, but the companies making the watches aren't out in front of the issue like Apple and Samsung are so buyers aren't sure about the capabilities. Smartwatches can be a bit more difficult to figure out than a phone, and having to head to the internet in search of instructions can turn an average user off. And once you figure out you need to install Google Fit on the phone and set other apps to "talk" to it, you might start wondering if you really want to share this data with Google and just give up. You can read Google's data privacy policy right here, by the way. And you should.

More: Google Coach is reportedly Google's new health/wellness service for Wear OS

Google can't shoulder the blame for this one alone. The company doesn't make a smartwatch of its own and depends on companies like LG to make Wear OS powered watches. These companies aren't giving us any reasons why Wear OS is better than its competition. In fact, it's tough to see any hardware partners actively giving us a reason to buy a smartwatch at all; compare that to Samsung or Apple who wants us to think life isn't complete without one on our wrist. I'll go out on a limb and say that's because of the low volume of sales each quarter, which quickly turns into a catch-22 where people don't know so they don't buy, and they don't know because they aren't buying.

Wear OS can do everything the other brands can, but nobody seems to know. Or care.

Hardware plays a big part, too. Apple and Samsung are well ahead of the newest Qualcomm wearable chipset and it will show when it comes to battery life and how well activities that can tax a processor run. I have a feeling there are a few reasons why because we all know Qualcomm is more than capable of building amazing chips for mobile devices. In the end, it comes down to money. Should Qualcomm spend billions developing a 10nm quad-core CPU with excellent wireless radios that sip battery life for products that aren't selling? I'm guessing shareholders wouldn't think so.

LG Watch Sport

LG Watch Sport

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying an Apple Watch or Galaxy Gear is more capable than any Wear OS watch. That's going to vary depending on what its to be used for. I'm saying people don't know they are as capable and aren't buying them. When people aren't buying a product it's tough to continue developing it in the future. Google is going to have to do something to keep Wear OS from becoming the next Android tablet — a device that's practically obsolete and unloved by fans and hardware partners alike.

I have no idea what can be done to make people want to buy a Wear OS powered watch. I just know nobody seems to be doing it. Will 2019 be the year for Wear OS, or the last year for Wear OS?

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.