Analysts are stumped trying to figure out whether or not Google purposefully left its supposed Pixel Watch at a restaurant. Whether it was intentional or not, they believe it produced a great marketing buzz for Google, which it really needs if it wants to outshine Samsung and Apple ahead of its I/O event.
On Saturday, Android Central first reported live images of a potential Google Pixel Watch prototype. The source said that the watch prototype was left at a restaurant in the U.S. “for a few weeks.” They added that they were “expecting the people that left it to return, but that never happened.”
Leaks of potential prototypes happen often, but what doesn’t happen often is for the prototype to be left at a restaurant, accident or not. This particular leak is very reminiscent of when Gizmodo reported in 2010 about the iPhone 4 prototype that was lost and found at a bar. The phone was camouflaged to look like an iPhone 3GS.
Google has had a track record of squashing some rumors and getting ahead of the game, like the time word got out that Google allegedly canceled the then-unannounced Pixel 5a and the company stepped in to contradict the incorrect leakers that same day. In the process, it confirmed the existence of the device ahead of schedule.
Similarly, without even announcing a launch date (and also killing rumors) for the Pixel 6, the company teased the phone by placing it in two exhibits at its retail store in New York City. While at the time you weren’t able to touch the phone, the exhibit gave people a chance to get a real-life look at the phones.
This time around, the company chose to stay silent.
It's hard to tell if this leak was intentional
Anshel Sag, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, is leaning more towards the Pixel Watch leak being intentional, “simply because it was there for weeks and nobody tried to come back for it, which is fairly suspect when you think about it.”
“If this is a marketing ploy, I do think it’s benefitting Google, and frankly, I think Google should take control of the narrative and give a teaser or a date when to expect it,” he says.
Avi Greengart, president and lead analyst at Techsponentialk, adds that Google has often published select details of its Pixel phones itself in days leading up to formal launch events, and that is a deliberate marketing strategy to build excitement and is also an “acknowledgment that it is not going to keep every detail quiet regardless.”
“However, that does not mean that Google wants unreleased products to be left in taxis and bars,” he says, adding that he thinks this watch was left by mistake and not a deliberate attempt to attract attention ahead of launch.
“As hard as it is to believe, Google is staffed by humans, and humans lose things all the time. There’s probably no point in trying to stuff this watch genie back in its bottle at this point. However, the goal of PR is to control the narrative and shape opinion about your product, and leaving stuff for bartenders and their friends to dissect undercuts that, not to mention that it is a huge failure for competitive intelligence and IP security,” he says.
Android Central reached out to Google for comments on how leaks affect the company and how the company addresses situations like this particular leak. Google did not respond in time for publication.
Sag says that Google really needs good press for the Pixel Watch, and they need to get people excited about it and deliver.
“Google had a strong start in wearables and has fallen off in recent years and I believe this is its chance to come back and give Apple some real competition with help from Samsung,” he says.
Can the Pixel Watch throw a punch at Samsung’s and Apple’s watches?
Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC's worldwide device tracker, doesn’t think this was an intentional marketing ploy. He adds that Google and other companies have other ways they could have gotten feedback that didn’t resort to a leak.
But despite that, he believes that this watch could “go toe-to-toe with Apple and Samsung when it comes to design and features.”
Ubrani notes that the lack of broad distribution and availability will likely hold it back from becoming a bestseller and competing with incumbents in market share.
According to data from Counterpoint Research, the global smartwatch market registered a strong 24% year-over-year growth in 2021, mainly driven by greater demand for the best cheap smartwatches under $100.
New information has surfaced, indicating that the Pixel Watch could be priced around the $300-$400 region. That’ll put it in direct competition with the Apple Watch Series 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic.
That being said, Apple was still successful at maintaining a dominant position of 30.1% market share last year, the report says. Samsung surpassed Huawei to become the second-largest smartwatch vendor in 2021. Its market share went up from 8.9% in 2020 to 10.2%, led by the Galaxy Watch 4 series. The company’s move to Wear OS worked surprisingly well, and it recorded its highest shipments ever in Q3 2021. Samsung’s smartwatch shipments were up by more than 200% in the July-to-September period.
Like Ubrani, Neil Shah, vice president of research at Counterpoint Research, says for Google to head to the same level as Apple and Samsung, the company needs to figure out how far and wide it plans to sell the watch. And from the way the Pixel phones have been marketed, it is quite limited.
“The volume and market share success will depend on if Google wants to expand distribution and compete with its own partners,” he says.
Sag notes that the only way Google can compete with Apple and Samsung, which are both “extremely entrenched players,” is to go down two different paths.
“One path is to embrace Android openness and to make the Pixel Watch the preferred smartwatch for Android by making any Google assistant-enabled device compatible with its full potential. The other path is for Google to go down the Pixel-exclusive route, making certain features only available on the Pixel Watch that other Android and iOS devices can’t or won’t have because of the deep integration with Pixel phones,” he says.
If this is the final watch design, it is a big win for Google
While we can’t be sure if this is the final watch design, we do know that according to a box that the watch reportedly was found in, the “markings and packaging are not final.”
We also know that the product is for “internal testing and development.”
That being said, from the images, we can see a sleek watch design with barely any bezels. The watch case itself is a bit bulbous, which many users on Twitter have commented on.
Sag says the design is very “futuristic and sleek” and that hasn’t really been achieved by anyone else.
“I like that it embraces the roundness of the watch itself. I believe it will stylistically go very well with a Pixel 6/7 design,” he notes. We don’t know when the watch will launch, but it’s likely it will be announced during Google I/O in May and launched alongside the Pixel 7 launch later this year.
Ubrani notes that this design is a win for Google and that it has the chance to set itself apart from other brands.
“In a world full of squares and squircles, a round watch face like the Pixel Watch will certainly stand out. It also looks to set itself apart from the typical Wear OS watches from the likes of Samsung and Fossil, which often look like a smartwatch pretending to be a traditional watch. My only hope is that the design will remain as elegant once the screen is turned on,” he says.
Ubrani notes that while there has been a stark difference in commentary online, with some loving the design and others hating it, it will only matter once people are able to see it on the wrist and experience it in person.
“[Doing so], some of their fears will subside and overall the design will be accepted and welcomed similar to what happened with the Pixel phones and other smartwatches from the past,” he says. “Pictures don't always do justice…but what matters more is how it sits on the wrist and perhaps for many consumers it won’t protrude as they think.”
We have seen a few new images surface of the watch being worn by the original source that reached out to Android Central. They are still images, so feelings could change when more people see the watch in person.
Shah notes that if this is the final form factor, then it is an attractive and differentiated design.
He notes that if Apple has settled on the rounded rectangle design, then the Android camp is settling on a circular or spherical form factor.
“This could help any Android Wear watches stand out vs. Apple watches,” he says.
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Shruti Shekar is Android Central's managing editor. She was born in India, brought up in Singapore, but now lives in Toronto and couldn't be happier. She started her journalism career as a political reporter in Ottawa, Canada's capital, and then made her foray into tech journalism at MobileSyrup and most recently at Yahoo Finance Canada. When work isn't on her mind, she loves working out, reading thrillers, watching the Raptors, and planning what she's going to eat the next day.