Annual Wear OS version upgrades will make each one a lot more boring, and that's okay

Comparing the Google Pixel Watch with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Google confirmed that Wear OS 5 is coming with a developer session at Google I/O earlier this month.
  • Wear OS releases, which are built in a collaboration between Google and Samsung, typically appear on Galaxy Watch devices first.
  • Samsung is reportedly readying a beta for One UI 6 Watch on Galaxy Watch devices.
  • The release of Wear OS 5 indicates an annual release schedule for Wear OS, but that could bring on more boring yearly updates.

The idea of Wear OS 5 debuting this year changed from being just a rumor to becoming a certainty rather quickly, with Google officially previewing the upcoming operating system at Google I/O 2024. Now that Wear OS 5 is official, we're already looking ahead to the first beta. Wear OS updates are developed as part of a joint effort between Google and Samsung, and Galaxy Watches are often the first smartwatches to get Wear OS betas first. That's why recent rumors have suggested a Wear OS 5 beta for the Galaxy Watch 6 could be imminent. 

Those rumors intensified over the last few days when one X (formerly Twitter) user spotted an official Samsung forum page for the One UI Watch 6 beta. Samsung is one version number ahead of Wear OS, so the One UI Watch 6 release will be our first glimpse of Wear OS 5 on actual hardware.

This forum page, which 9to5Google first reported on, indicates that the first Wear OS 5 beta could be just weeks away. Although this specific page doesn't provide any new information, the fact that it is live at all could mean Galaxy Watch 6 devices will receive the One UI Watch 6 beta soon. 

A new version upgrade is always exciting, and the possibility that Wear OS could be moving to a yearly release schedule could be even more exciting. But a consequence of that consistency, and the way Google releases Wear OS features, is that annual Wear OS upgrades will get more boring. They'll be more like watchOS, and that has pros and cons. 

Wear OS 5 doesn't look like a big upgrade

YouTube Music app on Wear OS

(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

The idea that Wear OS updates are becoming less exciting isn't just speculation. The jump from Wear OS 3.5 to Wear OS 4 wasn't a massive one, and early indications are that Wear OS 4 to Wear OS 5 could be an even smaller one. Aside from battery life improvements and changes to the Watch Face Format, there isn't a ton new with Wear OS 5 this year, at least based on what Google has announced thus far. While those changes are appreciated — especially the battery life boost — they aren't exactly exciting. 

Google specifically notes that workout tracking will be more efficient while running Wear OS 5. During a marathon, the company says Wear OS 5 will use up to 20% less power than Wear OS 4, which targets a particular segment of smartwatch users like Android Central's Michael Hicks, who writes our Sunday Runday column. Battery life improvements will indeed be the biggest user-facing Wear OS 5 upgrade. Everything else, from the Watch Face Format changes to using Android 14 as a base, is more developer-focused. 

Wear OS is going the way of watchOS

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 (left) and Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic (right) side-by-side

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

In some ways, the fact that "boring" Wear OS upgrades may become the norm is a compliment. Previously, there was so much wrong with Wear OS that we would see and get excited about big leaps between version upgrades. Now that annual Wear OS upgrades are on the horizon, it's impossible not to make a comparison between WatchOS and WearOS. WatchOS is the operating system that Apple Watches run, and it's arguably the most successful smartwatch OS released to date. 

Apple is nearing 10 years of the Apple Watch, and WatchOS progress has slowed over the last few years. When an operating system matures, there are limits to how many improvements can be made year-over-year. Apple usually includes a big feature or two in each version of watchOS, and they're occasionally tied to new Apple Watch hardware. Wear OS upgrades will become just like WatchOS upgrades, with a feature or an improvement coming each year, but not much else. 

Again, the fact that we can even make this comparison shows just how far Samsung and Google have come in reviving the Wear OS platform. It also means we shouldn't expect massive year-over-year changes that overhaul the Wear OS experience. It's more likely that Wear OS will evolve over a longer period of time, with one or two version upgrades needed to make a noticeable difference. 

There's more to it than yearly updates

Turning the crown on the Google Pixel Watch 2

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Another factor that will contribute to less exciting yearly Wear OS upgrades is the way Google releases features and changes. Unlike Apple, Google doesn't stock up on features for annual Wear OS releases. Instead, the company likes to release them throughout the year. 

A new Wear OS feature might debut as part of a quarterly release, like a feature drop. It could even appear in a monthly security update, like when Google added Vibration Watch to the Pixel Watch as part of the April 2024 update, although these tend to be Pixel-specific additions. Some users might prefer this release schedule because features are rolled out when they're ready instead of being held for a yearly upgrade.

Despite that benefit, it has the consequence of limiting the impact annual Wear OS releases can have. We'll see what exactly Wear OS 5 has in store when the beta releases in a few weeks, assuming the rumors are correct. Barring a miracle, it won't be all that exciting, and Wear OS users should get used to that. There are a handful of great things that have come with Wear OS' maturity, but that also means upgrades like Wear OS 5 just won't be as exciting.

Brady Snyder

Brady is a tech journalist covering news at Android Central. He has spent the last two years reporting and commenting on all things related to consumer technology for various publications. Brady graduated from St. John's University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. When he isn't experimenting with the latest tech, you can find Brady running or watching sports.