Wear OS, Google’s operating system for smart watches and other wearables, was released seven years ago but has existed in a state of some neglect, incrementally updated over that time without really coming close to becoming a standout product. Indeed, perhaps the most significant change over the last 7 years has been the rebranding of Android Wear to Wear OS in 2018. Only now does it seem like Google is pushing out the boat and pursuing market leadership. It will attempt to bring the best of Samsung’s Tizen OS with the best of Fitbit (which it owns) in a new platform for wearables. This is a huge deal with massive potential for Wear OS. Google’s announcement has the potential to deliver market leadership in the wearables market.
This “unified system” is a win-win for all involved. Wear OS was in a right old mess for a long time. It had been stagnating without any hint of being competitive. A big reason for this was the Snapdragon Wear chips designed by Qualcomm, which had become outdated. They are still a problem. In that time, Fitbit, Apple and Samsung were innovating fast, adding advanced health features, always-on displays, cellular connectivity, and sleep and stress tracking. Wear OS was going nowhere, not providing any kind of innovation for consumers, only updating its features incrementally and often adding features that its rivals had long added. Fixing these massive problems was going to be a big ask for anyone, so this announcement is a gift for Wear OS. It is precisely what Wear OS needed.
Fitbit was struggling in a market in which its competitors were able to offer cheaper, better products. Now, it has the resources to take on its competitors in the budget wearable market and create a flagship smartwatch of the highest order, a premium smartwatch that will be more than just a fancy fitness tracker. The unified system gives Google access to its data and hardware expertise, especially when it comes to battery life. Meanwhile, Samsung can develop its third-party app offerings, its weakest point in wearables. Google can use the best of Tizen to fix the many problems that Wear OS has and which frustrate its users. Android users finally have the prospect of a smartwatch as good as the Apple Watch. (Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 is a close second to the Apple Watch but its premium features are only available to Samsung smartphones.)
However, everything isn’t hunkydory: developers have been showing less and less interest in wearables for a long time. Given the comatose nature of Wear OS over the past few years, there have not been that many opportunities to excite developers. Not only that, but support has declined from companies such as Evernote. Given that, Google has said that it will make its unified system accessible to developers so that they can easily develop apps and tiles. Perhaps they’ll think of something for a Nuna Baby to use.
The unified system poses the biggest threat to Apple Watch and is likely to become a new source of revenue for Google. It’s about time Wear OS entered the game.