Can Google’s New Wear OS FINALLY Catch Apple Watch?
Google, Samsung, and FitBit are working on a brand new Wear platform. It should be excellent, based on what we know so far. Here’s everything YOU need to know…
Many believed Google had given up on Wear OS, previously called Android Wear, after an almost 12 month period of zero development. A small update dropped in 2020, but that was it.
However, as it turns out, Google has been working on a masterplan all a long, a plan that involves combining its R&D forces with FitBit and Samsung to create a new and improved Wear operating system.
Google acquired FitBit in 2020 and, in 2021, it confirmed a close working relationship with Samsung’s wearable department, where elements of Tizen would be merged into Wear and Samsung would use this “new” Wear/FitBit/Tizen-powered platform on all of its future wearable releases.
The first of which – Samsung’s Galaxy Active 4 – has already leaked and is set to launch on June 28.
The New Wear OS, Brought To You By FitBit, Samsung AND Google
In a market like wearables, where Apple Watch dominates, and specialist brands like Garmin have carved lucrative niches for themselves, finding traction is tricky.
Google has consistently failed to find its place in this market despite being one of the first firms to create a dedicated wearables operating system.
Google’s existent Wear OS platform is OK; it’s just nothing special. I use Android phones but I do not use Wear OS wearables because, like Apple Watch, the battery life is terrible.
Instead, I use Huawei’s Watch GT Pro 2 – it has all the fitness tracking features I want (for running) and its battery lasts two weeks.
I’ve owned about seven Wear OS smartwatches from a variety of brands over the years and none have lived up to expectation.
They all ended up in my desk drawer, collecting dust after a month or two of use.
Why? Most of the core features and functionality just weren’t good enough. The fitness tracking stuff was sub-par compared to Garmin and Apple Watch. The app experience also wasn’t great, either.
Rebuilt From The Ground Up
In order to make Wear a force to be reckoned with, Google has worked closely with Samsung and FitBit to completely redesign its new platform’s fitness tracking abilities from the ground up.
Both FitBit and Samsung helped develop the new fitness tracking abilities of Google’s incoming Wear update. Not only that but elements of both FitBit and Tizen will also appear inside the new Wear update.
This essentially means that all the best features of Samsung and FitBit’s smartwatches and software have been distilled down and moved into Google’s new Wear platform.
This new unified platform, created by Google, Samsung, and FitBit, should have all the features we expect from a modern smartwatch platform – things like advanced fitness tracking and health features.
It will also need to push the envelope of what’s possible with wearables too. It cannot afford to play catch up. Not when Apple is developing its Watch platform at such a rapid pace, adding in new, innovative features every single year.
Samsung and Google have huge resources at their disposal, so they should be able to come up with at least a couple of features that aren’t available anywhere else.
As of right now, we do not know much about this new Wear update, save for the fact that Google, Samsung, and FitBit are currently hard at work on it.
Better Battery Life
One thing that has been revealed, however, is that Google is leveraging Samsung’s Tizen engineers to make the platform more power efficient.
Google hasn’t talked specifics but Björn Kilburn, Google’s lead project manager on Wear, confirmed things like heart rate monitoring would not impede battery life in the slightest, thanks to new, low-power chips.
I’d like to see more done in this regard though; Garmin watches use solar power to top the battery life up. Why can’t Google’s new generation of smartwatches do the same, or something equally innovative?
What Chipset Will Wear Watches Use In 2021 And Beyond?
Another aspect that will aid both battery life and performance is the type of chipset the devices run on. Google has not started which chip is being used to test the platform, although it could use Samsung’s Exynos chips.
Or, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear platform. Either way, having the option of using both types of chipset will make Wear more attractive to third-party hardware brands.
Also: this “closer” relationship between Samsung and Google might have been predicated on Wear running on Samsung’s Exynos chips, not Qualcomm’s – although this is speculation on my part.
Either way, one of the key driving forces behind Google’s new Wear platform will be Samsung’s expertise in both CPU technology and memory – two key factors required for impressive performance.
The New Wear Will Be Better For Developers
As of right now, the wearables platform is incredibly fragmented. You have Tizen, Huawei’s platform, Apple Watch, and Wear OS, as well as FitBit and other, smaller platforms.
Samsung’s wearables, next to Apple Watch, are arguably the best of the rest from a sales perspective, so the idea of Samsung switching over to Google’s new Wear platform on its future releases is pretty huge.
Why? From 2021 onwards, we’ll have one, unified operating system for all kinds of wearables from a range of brands.
Samsung will use Wear, FitBit will use Wear, and all of Google’s existing Wear OS partners will be using the new Wear platform on their new watches.
This means, from a developer perspective, you can create one application and run it on a potentially ever-growing number of wearable devices – just like you can with Android phones.
Further collaboration with Google also allows us to expand our ecosystem for developers and partners so that they can take the wearable experience to even greater heightsJisun Park, Samsung Research America
Less Fragmentation, More Customisation
Google has designed the new Wear platform to function more simply, likely learning from its mistakes with Android. As a platform, Wear will be fully customizable or, if the hardware brand prefers, can be left as-is and run in its stock configuration.
Google has confirmed that it has made accessing data and tracking information a lot more streamlined in the new Wear; developers will be able to access core health and fitness metrics with ease, thanks to new APIs.
However, things like ECG and SpO2 sensors will not be built in natively; they will need to be added by the OEM.
Google says the new Wear will support these features at a software level but the hardware required to measure them will have to be developed and integrated by the manufacturer.
Samsung and FitBit watches do feature things like ECG and SpO2 sensors, however, so you can expect features like this to remain in place on future releases from the company.
Existing Samsung Galaxy Watch devices WILL NOT get the new Wear OS, however.
What I REALLY want to see, however, is some innovation – most decent wearable devices feature ECG and SpO2 sensors. Apple is rumored to be working on blood glucose and blood pressure sensing for Apple Watch.
Why can’t Google do this with its new platform? With Samsung and FitBit in the fold, it has the expertise and the resources to pull it off.
No More Yearly Updates…
Google has confirmed that its new Wear platform will not get traditional yearly updates. Instead, the platform will constantly evolve. This means multiple updates – big and small – throughout the year.
This tells me that the Google/FitBit/Samsung team behind the new platform have been given carte blanche to really push the envelope with new features and abilities.
As soon as new technology is available, it can be pushed out to potentially hundreds of different smartwatches in the wild. This ability alone could help the new initiative leap-frog Apple Watch with respect to features and abilities in just a couple of years.
Google is also said to be working on its first – and long-rumoured – Pixel Watch. Like its Pixel phones, this wearable could be used as a testing platform for new features and abilities, as well as a reference guide for Google’s hardware partners.
As someone that uses wearables quite a bit, I have to say I am really quite excited by the prospect of Google, Samsung, and FitBit working together on a new version of Wear.
Samsung has an excellent pedigree in this field, and so too does FitBit. Add in Google’s near-infinite resources and reach and we could be looking at something really special here.
Google already has plenty of massive brands using Wear – brands like Fossil, Hugo Boss, and more – so if it can create a truly compelling operating system with Samsung and FitBit, the sky really is the limit here.
Samsung’s first Wear-powered smartwatch is due out this year, so we’ll learn more about the ins and outs of the new platform once that device launches.
But what’s most exciting for me, as a user, is the fact that Google has confirmed that it will be working on the platform round the clock, with updates dropping frequently throughout the year.
Add in things like improved performance, better battery life, and completely revamped health and fitness tracking tools, and it is easy to see why many analysts are starting to get bullish about Google’s chance of finally catching up with the Apple Watch.
Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.