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Wear OS could be amazing if Google and Qualcomm took it seriously

Fossil Sport smartwatches
Fossil Sport smartwatches (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

Few things in this industry make me as perplexed as Wear OS. At its core, it should be a runaway success. A smartwatch that has good integration with Android, Google Assistant built-in, and great app support? Sign me up. Everything about that sounds incredible, and in theory, it is.

However, year after year, Wear OS continues to fall by the wayside. The smartwatch market as a whole is growing, with North America on its own seeing a 40% jump in sales during Q2 2019 for a market value of $2 billion. There's a lot of money to be made here, and while companies like Apple and Samsung are soaring, Wear OS has virtually no market share.

If Wear OS has such a solid foundation, why is no one buying? In my eyes, the answer is pretty simple — Google and Qualcomm have no intention of taking it seriously.

During the early days of Wear OS (formerly Android Wear), things were exciting. Companies like LG, Samsung, Motorola, and Huawei were releasing lots of interesting hardware, Google seemed eager to promote the platform, and there was genuine momentum that kept pushing everything forward.

Unfortunately, that renaissance didn't last very long. Samsung stepped out of the Android Wear game to focus on its Tizen platform, LG's highly-anticipated Watch Style and Watch Sport were flops, and Qualcomm decided to take an over two-year hiatus from creating any new silicon for smartwatches. Add that together with various UI changes for Android Wear, an assortment of bugs that have crept up and not been fixed, and a big rebrand that didn't really go anywhere, and we're left with smaller brands trying to pick up the pieces and make the best of a bad situation.

The glory days of Wear OS are long gone.

I've been thinking about this for a while, but this idea really struck a chord with me recently while using the new Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch. Fossil is the most successful company creating Wear OS watches in 2019, and the Gen 5 is its best one yet, especially in one area that's usually a downside for Wear OS — performance.

The Gen 5 is the first Wear OS watch I've used that ships with 1GB of RAM. To put things in perspective, most others use around 500MB or 512MB. Wear OS shouldn't need that much RAM to perform well, but it does.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor that was launched in the second half of 2018 was anticipated to give Wear OS the performance boost it so desperately needed, but we didn't see anything of the like. In fact, it had essentially the same horsepower as the Wear 2100 from 2016. In real-world use, this translates to sluggish performance and choppy animations. The extra RAM in the Fossil Gen 5 does a surprisingly good job at remedying some of these pain points, but even on the best-performing Wear OS watch on the market, I still run into slow app loading times and occasional freezes.

Call me crazy, but I have the slightest inkling that a CPU that hasn't really been upgraded since 2016 isn't helping out all that much.

That's not to mention how badly the 3100 failed in the one area it was supposed to breathe new life into Wear OS — battery life. Qualcomm made bold claims about how much good the Wear 3100 would do for battery endurance on Wear OS, but after using multiple watches with the processor, we've found that battery life is virtually unchanged from the Wear 2100. In other words, you're more than likely going to put most Wear OS watches on the charger every single night. In 2019, that's unacceptable.

These complaints have been made vocal throughout the wearable community, and in response, Google's been mostly radio silent. The last significant upgrade Wear OS as a platform saw was the introduction of Tiles this past May, and while these are a nice addition to the operating system, they do nothing to address the piss poor performance or short-lived battery life.

The Wear 3100 was supposed to be Wear OS's saving grace.

While poor CPUs don't help Wear OS out in these regards, there's also some blame to be put on Google for Wear OS's general sluggishness and bugs that are present on virtually every watch.

Google's given Wear OS a fresh coat of paint here and there to make it more intuitive, and while these updates have been greatly appreciated, I'd much rather see Google take some time to really optimize Wear OS to not run like molasses on just about every smartwatch that's released. Compared to the performance you can get on the Apple Watch or Samsung's Galaxy Watch lineup, it's frankly quite embarrassing.

Lastly, and even worse for Wear OS's public image, the platform has an awful identity crisis:

  1. Google doesn't actively promote Wear OS
  2. Wear OS is only supported by smaller, lesser-known companies

Google's smartwatch platform used to be put on watches created by the likes of Samsung and Motorola, but these days, it's kept alive by Fossil and Mobvoi. Both Fossil and Mobvoi are excellent companies and have created some great Wear OS hardware, but their brand-awareness isn't nearly on the same level compared to those big tech giants. If someone's at their local Best Buy and looking for a new smartwatch, there's a good chance they know and trust Samsung but haven't heard of Fossil before. For some people, that level of awareness (or lack thereof) is reason enough to purchase or skip over something.

Similarly, there's also the fact that Google can't be bothered to create a Wear OS watch of its own. I'm not sure at this point if a Pixel Watch would be enough of a catalyst to revitalize Wear OS, but not even trying sure isn't doing Google any favors. If anything, it drives home the point that Google probably couldn't care less about Wear OS.

With all of that being the case, where does Wear OS go from here? A good start would be new silicone, a complete reworking of the OS to eliminate bugs and optimize performance, and for Google to at least try its hand at a Pixel Watch to see how the market reacts.

If we can get those core issues straightened out, we'll be left with a version of Wear OS that has a fighting chance of being something great again. Until then, the potential of Google's smartwatch platform will continue to be wasted. And that's not good for anyone.

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch review: Wear OS at its finest

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

15 Comments
  • Isn't Qualcomm working on a modified 429 chip for next year?
  • They are working on a new chip that should be able to compete with Apple and Samsung watch chips... From last year :/
  • Couldn't agre more. In fact,i posted a comment which mirrored the article title almost verbatim a few days ago lol. I'm currently well into my third day of use on my Galaxy watch (it's 1525 here and it's at 28%) there's no way any wear OS watch can even come close to that. It's not just the watches themselves, either. The wear OS app for Android seems to hemorrhage battery power... Kind of defeats the point of a smartwatch if the app uses more phone battery than waking the screen would.
  • I get 3 days out of my tic watch Pro but for me wareos is the only option don't like apple and for me half the apps on a Samsung watch don't work or work well in the uk. Example Samsung pay no shops support it here.
  • I'm guessing that's actually because of the clever dual display they used though. Any shop that supports contactless payment supports Samsung pay. The problem is none of the banks do lol. That is the main problem with the galaxy watch though, that it doesn't support Google services.
  • First I would like to say that I really enjoyed this article because it mentions every concern that I have with Wear OS. It's a very capable software that if given the right hardware could compete with Apple. I have the original TicWatch Pro and I still love it. It's not flashy it's slow because of the older processor but I easily get 4-5 days out of it and you could going longer than if need be but it's because of the hardware and how it's tuned. Mobvoi has figured out the formula and I can't wait for the newest TicWatch Pro version with the latest processor. I personally don't need the 4G version....not enough of an upgrade to warrant that purchase.
  • Clearly why should any European get any Wear OS device if Google keeps blocking key adoption apps such as Google Pay from installing?
    I am a German bank customer yet Google decided to block Google Pay on some European Countries, just because no local bank signed some agreement with them? What? They do payment via Visa or MasterCard anyways. Heard of Geo-blocking Visa and MasterCard? No. Google just nailed that and nobody at Google Pay gets fired for such lame decisions.
  • In the US, banks have to sign up to support Google Pay, so I don't think it's a matter of geoblocking. If your bank doesn't support it, you can't use it. I don't think that's Google's decision.
  • I live in the EU, was in the US the other day and there an icon of Google Pay on my Fossil sport appeared at the system screen (swipe from top down). This must be location based because I didn't change banks.
  • I remember when everyone gave Samsung smack because they dropped Wear OS to go with Tizen as their backend for their smartwatches, guess they saw the writing on the wall for Googles smartwatch platform and its severe limitations to creativity, glad they did, with the exception of needing a lot more apps the Galaxy Watch is amazing!
  • In my opinion, people who prefer round watchfaces would better buy "dumb watches" (however good and beautiful) than smartwatches (that can do quite more than showing the time, and therefore have far shorter battery life). Just for analogy an old saying of mine: a good racing car is a poor moving van, and a good moving van is a poor racing car.
  • I thought Google was working on their own chip to be used in the Pixel Watch. There was supposedly some evidence for this by a youtuber I saw recently. I guess we'll find out if that's the case in October.
  • Nail on the head. Just posted a review on the Gen 5 fossil watch. Fossil did a great job with the hardware and spec options they had. What is really slowing down the progression is googles services/os updates or lack thereof. Theres no way wear os should be as battery hungry as it is. If battery improvements alone were made better the fossil gen 5 would be a easy watch to reccommend. The fact that these oems have had to make adjustments to the OS specifically targeting battery life while the supplier of the OS has not, speaks volumes.
  • I don't get all the complain about battery life. Is the battery on the apple watch so much different after all? I usually got 1.5 to 2 days on my huawei watch 2, I think it is the same my friend gets on the apple watch. Not to mention that wearos give you options like ticwatch pro, with the dual display technology.
  • « you're more than likely going to put most Wear OS watches on the charger every single night. In 2019, that's unacceptable » Why? Most people don’t wear theit watch at night or have many opportunities to charge it on the course of the day or 2... and sleep tracking (the main reason a longer battery life is helpful) is not that accurate in my experience. It’s always good to have more battery life but a good whole day is acceptable today