In August 2021, fans of smartwatches got what many of us had always hoped for: a Samsung wearable with Google's software. The watch aimed to usher in this new era of Android wearables was the Galaxy Watch 4 series, running a Samsung and Google co-developed Wear OS 3. It had the core bits of the prior generation of Wear OS software, except for one glaring omission: Google Assistant.
This isn't a new revelation, but in the last couple of weeks, it has gotten me thinking about the peculiar situation of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, Google Assistant, and the rumored Google Pixel Watch. Since Samsung released its smartwatch last fall, consumers have been told that Google Assistant was on the way — multiple times. But it's nearly been eight months since the watch's release date, and it's still not here. I don't think this is a coincidence.
Getting our hopes up
I bought the Galaxy Watch 4 — twice — and though Google Assistant wasn't a significant contributing factor in either of the purchases, it does rear its annoying head every time I want to use it on my watch. I was so excited when it appeared that the feature would be rolling out to the wearable any day now, only to find out that it was a mistake.
Then came the massive Pixel Watch leaks that happened over the last week. While it was all happening, it hit me that perhaps the exclusivity of Wear OS 3 on Samsung's smartwatches, the lack of Google Assistant on them, and the hopeful announcement of a Google wearable are in cahoots.
Ok, what I'm about to say is entirely speculative and based on my own crazy thoughts — but hear me out. What if the agreement gave Samsung the sole rights to Wear OS 3, but it didn't get Google Assistant. This is because Google has been planning the Pixel Watch and wants to debut the voice assistant on its own smartwatch at Google I/O. Then following the announcement, Google Assistant would make its way to the Galaxy Watch 4 lineup and, in the coming months, Wear OS 3 to other brands.
A plausible theory
I reached out to Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC's worldwide device tracker, and posed my theory to him. He told me, "Given how prominently featured the Google Assistant is on the Pixel phones and how it's used as a key differentiator, I think it stands to reason that Google will likely do something similar with the Pixel Watch by making the assistant a central feature and it's also likely the reason Samsung's latest watches don't have this feature enabled just yet."
Whether this theory is true or not, as someone who keeps trying to love the Galaxy Watch 4, the lack of Google Assistant is a thorn. Especially considering that every other Wear OS watch on the market — except the one rocking the latest version of the software and arguably has the more advanced internal specs — doesn't have it.
A few years ago, having Google Assistant on a Wear OS watch was less than an ideal experience. While it was possible to use the assistant on older watches, it required a lot of patience. But with newer devices utilizing Qualcomm's Snapdragon 4100 series, like the TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra, Google Assistant is far more snappy and actually useful to the point that I miss it when I don't have it.
I asked Ubrani if he felt that the Galaxy Watch 4's lack of Google Assistant had held the watch back any, and he said, "I don't think the lack of Google Assistant has held back the Galaxy Watch 4's success. By our estimates, Samsung shipped 7.1M WearOS watches in the second half of 2021; that's noticeably higher than the 5.6M Tizen Watches it shipped during the second half of 2020. Much of that growth was driven by Samsung's aggressive marketing rather than the fact that it was running on Google's latest OS. My point being that when it comes to Samsung's wearables, their success is based on Samsung's hard work, not Google's services."
The numbers show that Samsung has not had trouble shipping a lot of its Wear OS smartwatch, but according to Android Central's Editor of Dope Shit, Jerry Hildenbrand, the wearable is still a flop. Now, what fully constitutes and causes failure is debatable. Is it from a lack of apps? Is it because there are more Apple Watches in the wild than Galaxy Watch 4 devices? Again, in this case, why and if the watch is a failure is something that can be discussed ad nauseam.
But, for a feature that is so ingrained in both the best Android smartwatches and Android phones to be absent from the "flagship watch" eight months later just doesn't make sense — unless it was for a good reason. Perhaps a Pixel Watch is that reason.
When the Galaxy Watch 4 was nearing its release, the leaks and discussions pointed directly at Samsung. Concerning what it was going to do with the newly-built Wear OS 3, I became worried that Google was giving up too much to Samsung — and until recently, I still felt that way. But perhaps it's all been a part of the plan and agreement for Samsung to get the spotlight. The OEM is the face of Android smartphones, so why not give it the same shot for watches?
The other part of the Wear OS 3 story is that no other watches have a device running the software at this point. A common thread amongst the devices that have Google Assistant is that they all run a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor — the Galaxy Watch 4 does not. And if rumors are true, neither will the Pixel Watch.
I asked Ubrani what he thought about a different strategy idea by Google to prop up a Pixel Watch. Could a slow rollout of Wear OS 3 to other brands be similarly strategic and beneficial? Ubrani replied, "When it comes to other brands, I think having some sort of exclusivity period for Google's latest certainly plays a role but perhaps having a different chipset has also added to the development time."
Time will tell
All of this has been to say a few things. I am tired of waiting for Google Assistant on my Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. With all the leaks and rumors around the Pixel Watch, I want even more for Google to stop messing around and release the thing. Finally, I want to see Wear OS 3 arrive on other smartwatches. But there's nothing I can do about any of it, and this is just my way of trying to make sense of it in my head.
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