Wear OS has been neglected for far too long. Google has been dead in the smartwatch space, and Samsung can’t get a decent app ecosystem together with its smartwatches based on Tizen. The two companies, along with Fitbit (which was recently acquired by Google), are teaming up. Google says it is building “a unified platform, jointly with Samsung” that will combine “the best of Wear OS and Tizen.” The new platform has been quietly renamed “Wear,” dropping the “OS” suffix.
This announcement was just a tease, with no screenshots of the new OS other than a look at a few things made with the existing Wear OS “Tiles” API. So it’s not clear what we’re getting here. We do have some quotes, though. Executives from Google, Samsung, and Fitbit commandeered the stream to talk about their parts in all of this.
Samsung says it is bringing the best of Tizen (is there a best of Tizen?), but really what we’re interested in—as usual—is the company’s hardware. Samsung says the next version of Wear will run on “the next Samsung Galaxy Watch,” presumably the Galaxy Watch 4. Samsung will also be bringing its Exynos system on a chip along for the ride, which means Wear OS will finally break free of Qualcomm’s halfhearted wearables support. Samsung isn’t great at competing with Qualcomm when it comes to smartphone SoCs, but it does turn in competent smartwatch SoCs that improve year over year, which is more than Qualcomm has been willing to dedicate to wearables.
With no viable SoC vendor, Wear OS hasn’t even had a chance to compete with the Apple Watch, which gets comparatively dramatic hardware improvements every year. Wear OS has had plenty of its own problems, but the hardware is the foundation of any device, and Wear OS just hasn’t had a viable foundation. It’s hard to see how this doesn’t result in a Samsung monopoly over Wear OS, but at least Google will have some kind of SoC vendor committed to the platform.
Google promises that the next version of Wear OS will have “faster performance, longer battery life, and a thriving developer community.” There will be a “whole new consumer experience” for Wear OS, including updates from your “favorite” Google apps. Google Maps, YouTube Music, and Google Pay all got shoutouts.
Fitbit promised to bring “the best of Fitbit to Wear,” with a predictable nod to health tracking. Fitbit also says, “In the future, we’ll be building premium smartwatches based on Wear.” So would the smartwatch out of Google headquarters be branded a “Fitbit Watch” instead of the long-rumored “Pixel Watch?”
Maybe we’ll learn more about the project in the “What’s new with Wear” presentation, but for now, this is it. Google says updates will be rolling out later this year.