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Wear OS 3 explained: Eligible smartwatches, features, and what you need to know

Google Pixel Watch with Fitbit data
(Image credit: Google)

Wear OS 3 is the latest update to Google's smartwatch platform, announced at Google I/O 2021. It's being co-developed by Google and Samsung, the latter of which has adopted Wear OS in lieu of its long-time Tizen platform. It brings some notable changes compared to previous iterations of Wear OS, which should give it a boost when compared to both Google and Samsung's efforts in the space, combining the best of both companies.

We've already tasted what Wear OS 3 can do thanks to the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, which proved quite popular. However, that's only Samsung's flavor of Wear OS, and despite some teasers from Google and a few uncovered snippets, we still don't have a complete picture of what's in store for the "stock" Wear OS 3 update on some of the best Wear OS watches. This is the experience we would expect to see on the upcoming Pixel Watch, similar to how Google's Pixel smartphones provide a "stock" version of Android.

That said, we're learning more about the update as the year progresses, and this is what we know thus far about the upcoming update.

Availability & eligible smartwatches

Wear OS 3 is technically available already, although you'll only find it on one smartwatch for now. After working with Google on the platform, Samsung has been the exclusive launch partner for Wear OS 3 with the Galaxy Watch 4. The smartwatch has been available since August 2021 and can be purchased online or in person through retailers and carriers.

However, the update hasn't been made available for other smartwatches. Instead, Google announced that the update would come to select Wear OS watches from companies such as Fossil and Mobvoi. This consists of smartwatches running the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100 chipset, a list that is slowly growing.

These are the current smartwatches that will support the Wear OS 3 update, although the list is not exhaustive and could likely include more devices:

Fossil Group

  • Fossil Gen 6
  • Michael Kors Gen 6
  • Skagen Falster Gen 6

Mobvoi

  • TicWatch Pro 3 GPS/LTE
  • TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra
  • TicWatch E3

As far as when Wear OS 3 will release to these smartwatches, it is anyone's guess. We at least know it will be sometime in 2022, with Google stating that the rollout will occur during a vague timeline "starting in mid to second half of 2022." That means the earliest we might see current devices updated will be this summer or around the launch of the Pixel Watch this fall.

In addition to current phones being updated, we expect companies to release new Wear OS 3 smartwatches later this year. Google recently highlighted partners expected to launch new devices this year, likely including the Fossil Gen 7, among others.

Wear OS 3 features

Wear OS partners at Google I/O 2022

(Image credit: Google)

Since its initial announcement at Google I/O 2021, we haven't learned too much about Wear OS 3 features and how it will differ from Wear OS 2.x. That said, there are some major points that we do know.

One of the biggest changes is that the platform will take a similar approach as Android in terms of the UI. That means OEMs will be able to alter the appearance of the UI to give their smartwatches a unique style. This would benefit smartphone OEMs by giving them a way to match UI elements with their smartphones for a cohesive experience. Samsung was the first to show this off with One UI Watch, and we can expect that other smartphone OEMs will follow.

Google also showed off an updated launcher with pill-shaped apps, similar to the layout seen on newer versions of the Wear OS Play Store, Google Messages, and other apps that have been updated to match the Wear OS 3 experience. Google Maps is also getting overhauled with a new UI and functionality, making it less dependent on a connected smartphone to work.

There will also be a new task switcher, which will be able to quickly cycle through in-use apps by double-tapping a navigation button on the side of the watch. The home screen will also be able to display icons for apps running in the background.

Wear OS Launcher, Task Switcher

(Image credit: Google)

One of the big additions is the addition of Fitbit. Google says that Wear OS 3 will tie Fitbit into the platform, making it available on all smartwatches. This experience will launch first on the Pixel Watch and will exist alongside Google Fit for now. It's unclear if it will eventually replace Google Fit.

At Google I/O 2022, the company announced that it was bringing the new Google Wallet to Wear OS. It previewed the new Google Home experience on Wear OS, allowing users quick access to smart home controls and alerts on their wrists.

Google Home on Wear OS

(Image credit: Google)

Despite all these teasers and previews, Google has yet to really show off the complete experience we're to expect with Wear OS 3. That said, thanks to recent updates to the Wear OS emulator, we've been able to get glimpses of other UI aspects that we can likely expect from the platform.

From the screenshots, we can glean a new quick settings menu with more icons, a new look for brightness slider and battery pages, and a more consistent look throughout the menus.

One UI Watch

Some of these new Wear OS 3 features are already available on the Galaxy Watch 4. However, due to Samsung's One UI Watch, you're getting a very Galaxy-centric experience. That means while many of Google's services are available, so are Samsung's. That means you get access to Samsung Pay along with Google Pay and Samsung Health alongside Google Fit. Some features are exclusive to Samsung's services, such as the watch's BIA sensor, which can detect body composition.

As far as the UI, it closely matches what you'll find on a Samsung smartphone, down to the settings menu. Some settings will also translate from the watch to the smartphone and vice versa. For example, your clock will display the different time zones across devices, and blocked contacts will also sync.

Samsung Wear OS One UI Watch Settings App

(Image credit: Samsung)

One handy feature available on One UI Watch is having apps downloaded on your smartphone automatically installed on your smartwatch, assuming there's an existing version available. This expands on the Play Store's capability to install apps on your watch directly from your smartphone.

(Image credit: Google)

One of the biggest recent additions to One UI Watch is Google Assistant support, allowing users to default to Google's AI assistant in case Bixby isn't to their liking. Assistant support launched in May 2022 on the Galaxy Watch 4 as a downloadable app with a new UI and faster responses.

For now, Samsung's One UI Watch is the only Wear OS 3 skin available, but it gives a good idea of what we can expect from other smartphone OEMs with custom Android skins. We may learn more about what these OEMs have in store for their flavors of Wear OS 3 when the update gets closer to launch. Until then, we'll keep on the lookout for more information about Wear OS 3 as it comes.

What we want to see

So far, what we've seen from Wear OS 3 has us pretty excited about the future of Google's wearable platform. But there are still things that we wish the company would adopt when it reaches more smartwatches. Our Ara Wagoner listed some of those wishes, including a better backup and restore process.

When you switch smartphones paired to your Wear OS device, you essentially have to reset your smartwatch and go through the whole setup process. That means redownloading the apps you had, uninstalling the ones you don't want, and adjusting your settings just how you like them. So it would be nice to have the watch backed up on the Wear OS app to expedite the process somehow.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 Backup Lifestyle

(Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

We would also like to see more advanced health features across the platform. So far, Samsung has some of the most advanced tracking features we've seen on a Wear OS smartwatch. If Google wants to compete with Apple as a health and fitness accessory, it should improve Wear OS tracking capabilities. Hopefully, this is something we will see with Fitbit integration.

Affordability is something that would help adoption. Our Jerry Hildenbrand points out how letting OEMs mess with the UI to make Wear OS their own might help save the platform by bringing the cost down. We've seen devices like the Mobvoi TicWatch E3 reach $199 and even lower if you can find it at a discount. If and when companies like Motorola, which is known for making some of the best budget Android phones, launch new Wear OS devices, it could be a recipe for making Google's platform much more accessible.

TicWatch E3

(Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Perhaps the biggest thing we want to see across the platform is better battery life. Google promised to improve on this when Wear OS 3 was announced, but so far, the Galaxy Watch 4 hasn't lived up to the hype. As it stands, it's still not quite a two-day smartwatch, while other devices like the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra can easily last a few days. Google needs to make Wear OS efficient enough to do just that without OEMs needing to stuff large, bulky batteries or secondary displays into their watches.

Derrek is a long-time Nokia and LG fanboy who loves astronomy, videography, and sci-fi movies. When he's not working, he's most likely working out or smoldering at the camera.