Google’s Wear OS software platform for smartwatches has been hibernating for a short time now. The Play Store and Google-made apps are still functional, and new watches are arriving on a gentle schedule, but most app developers aren’t curious about the platform. Unfortunately, Google has also neglected to bring its newer features and services to Wear OS, and long-standing bugs with Google Assistant and other components are still prevalent.
There has never been a transparent account of why Google dropped the ball with Wear OS, besides guesses about poor device sales (Apple continues to outsell all its competitors). The company’s acquisition of Fitbit started speculation that Wear OS might be overhauled or replaced, using software and technology initially developed by Fitbit. However, albeit the acquisition was announced in November 2019, various regulatory hurdles prevented the acquisition from closing until January of this year. If Google were planning an overhaul for Wear OS, the software would likely stay in maintenance mode — but that’s not what’s happening.
Google recently published the schedule for this month’s Google I/O developers conference. For the primary time since 2018 (though there was no event in 2020), there are multiple events dedicated to Wear OS. In addition, Google’s planning a ‘What’s new with Wear’ session, also as a workshop about building Tiles. the two sessions aren’t definitive evidence that Google is serious about Wear, but there has been other encouraging news. For example, earlier this month, Google released its Gboard keyboard for Wear OS watches — the primary time in years Google has brought a replacement app to the platform.
It’s great to ascertain some level of interest in Wear OS again from Google, but there’s still an extended thanks to going. Google Assistant has been a buggy mess on most watches, third-party app development has largely ceased, and a few of Google’s apps may benefit from updates. There also hasn’t been any official way of storing music offline on Wear OS watches since Google Play Music was discontinued; YouTube Music remains missing, albeit an Apple Watch app was released in October 2020.
More importantly, Wear OS needs new hardware. Unfortunately, Qualcomm, the supplier for many chipsets employed by Wear OS watches, has been hesitant to develop new wearable hardware. Until last year, the Wear and tear 3100 was the company’s best chipset for wearable devices built on an aging 28nm architecture. Qualcomm finally released updated hardware last year, the Wear and tear 4100 and 4100+, which delivered much-needed performance and usefulness improvements.
There’s still just one Wear OS watch with the Wear and tear 4100 chipsets: the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3. Motorola is reportedly licensing its name for a smartwatch that will feature the chipset. Still, a much bigger player within the industry, Fossil, has yet to update its watches to use the new hardware. Worse yet, there are not any Wear OS watches in the least with the high-end Wear 4100+. The upgraded chip promises full-color ambient displays, enhanced sports tracking, and other features that the platform may benefit from. If third-party manufacturers aren’t curious about selling watches with the Wear and tear 4100+, then Google must intensify to the plate with its watch.
Now that Wear OS is seemingly here to mention — a minimum of until Google can find out its long-term wearable strategy with Fitbit under its belt — we’d like more watches with the newest hardware. The platform has struggled for years on under-powered watches with slow processors and under 1GB of RAM, but the TicWatch Pro 3 has proven the OS can run well with the proper hardware. So we need more (and better) watches. Maybe Samsung’s next smartwatches might be the push that the platform desperately needs.