Google hasn’t cared about smartwatches for years, and that’s been evident with the lack of significant Wear OS updates over the years and a severe shortage of decent Wear OS-powered watches.
Somewhat out of nowhere, it looks like all that’s gonna change. Today at I/O 2021, Google announced the biggest upgrade to Wear OS ever. It starts with a partnership with Samsung which will see the two companies merge their smartwatch platforms to form a single solution: Wear. That means Samsung will no longer ship watches running Tizen OS, instead relying on the newly-formed OS with Google.
That’s significant in and of itself. Google basically looked at Samsung and thought “Hmm, they seem to be having success with their smartwatches, but we can’t buy them out like we did Fitbit. What if we just did a merger?”
Samsung’s Tizen-powered watches have proved to be decent with their good performance, efficiency, and app support. However, they were by no means as versatile as a Wear OS watch and couldn’t match the sheer quality of an Apple Watch. Between them and Google, though, a proper competitor to Apple’s wearable could finally ship.
The new Wear platform will run up to 30 percent faster on the latest chips, according to Google, and everything from launching apps to navigating the UI will feel smoother. Battery life will also see significant improvements.
New navigation gestures, updated Tiles, and updated versions of apps like Google Pay and the Assistant will also be on board. One of the more interesting additions to Wear is the ability for manufacturers to customize the look and feel of the platform the way they want, just like they do with standard Android. That means Samsung will likely slap a One UI-esque skin on whatever smartwatches they ship in the future, which could be cool.
In addition, developers will have an easier time creating apps for the platform than before thanks to new tools and a more cohesive development process.
As for fitness, this is where Fitbit comes in. Google confirmed that it will integrate some features from Fitbit that users enjoy. It isn’t clear what they are, but the company mentioned things like “tracking your health progress throughout your day and on-wrist goal celebrations” as features being included, so take that for what you will.
Undoubtedly, this will be one of the more important areas of Wear. Apple Watches, Fitbits, Garmins, and others are known for their fitness tracking, whereas Wear OS watches simply aren’t. Hopefully, this tighter integration between Google’s watches and Fitbits will help improve things.
Google says the new Wear platform will roll out later this year, although it’s unclear which devices will/could get it first. A rumored Galaxy Watch 4 will likely be the first to ship with the software onboard, so expect to hear more about it in the near future.