Last week, I wrote about the new software update for Wear OS, Google’s smartwatch platform. I thought (and think) that it’s a good update for existing users and potentially a foundation that the company could build on to make something that’s actually competitive with both the Apple Watch or even Saumsung’s Galaxy Watch.
The update “breathes new life into Wear OS smartwatches,” but the emphasis is very much on existing smartwatches. You see, I also wrote that this update does not mean that you should go out and buy a new Wear OS watch — and therein lies the problem for Google. There’s a “life support” metaphor in “breathing new life” if you want to reach for it.
Android users have perennially been waiting for the next thing to save the platform. The switch over from Android Wear to Wear OS was meant to highlight that the platform could be used with iPhones, but it didn’t significantly change anything. Then the wait was on for a new, faster processor — but what Qualcomm came out with seems primarily focused on battery life. Now another wait is on: to see shipping watches using the new processor to learn if, in fact, it does more than extend battery life.
But “maybe next year” is something we’ve been saying about Wear OS (and Android Wear before it) pretty much since we strapped the very first watches to our wrists. Meanwhile, Apple has completely taken over the wearables market — the only viable competition comes from Xiaomi, which primarily sells devices that cost hundreds less.
I don’t know that Wear OSneedsto be competitive with the Apple Watch, though. Smartwatches are neat, but I don’t know that it’s a strategic risk to Google’s business to not be a real player in that game. It’s probably enough that it has some kind of option for Android users to fend off switchers.
When I am using an Android phone, I’m back to using a Wear OS watch myself. But the delta between what you get with Wear OS on Android vs. an Apple Watch on the iPhone is really big and growing larger. Right now, the Apple Watch serves as a compelling reason for iPhone users to stay iPhone users. At some point, it could sneak over a line and begin to convinceAndroidusers to become iPhone users.
Google claimed last year that one out of three Wear OS users had an iPhone, but I don’t think that is why Wear OS is important. It’s important because it’s the first-party smartwatch platform for Android users. Wear OS 2.1isa good foundation — at least from a UI perspective — to build a better smartwatch for Android users. But it’s just a foundation, and I still think Android users deserve better smartwatches.