Google's Planned Updates for Wear OS Are Underwhelming

Illustration for article titled Googles Planned Updates for Wear OS Are Underwhelming
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Google’s smartwatch platform, Wear OS, doesn’t get as much love—or regular updates—as its rivals, but today we got a nice surprise: Google detailed some new updates coming to the platform this fall.

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That said, don’t crack open the champagne just yet. Most of these updates are of the small, maintenance-focused variety. In the Android Developers Blog, Google’s Karen Ng, director of product, and product manager Robert Simpson wrote that the company is “focusing on fundamentals.” The next over-the-air update will purportedly improve performance by “making it faster to access your info and start your apps.” It will also supposedly streamline the pairing process, and add “more intuitive controls” for watch modes and workouts. Nothing too flashy.

Google also highlighted a built-in handwashing timer and reminder given the global pandemic, but this was rolled out a few months ago. Perhaps visually, the most striking change is Google is adding a new weather screen that’s easier to read at a glance and gives hourly updates.

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Overall, the whole thing doesn’t look like enough to catch Wear OS up to Apple’s watchOS 7 upgrade coming this fall, or even Tizen OS, Samsung’s proprietary operating system for its smartwatches. The handwashing timer, for instance, is fairly basic and doesn’t feature the same ability to automatically activate via sounds like the Apple Watch will once watchOS 7 hits.

It’s likely that these updates are fueled in part by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 4100+ platform, which the company announced a few weeks ago. With the new chips, you should start seeing some Wear OS watches with LTE connectivity. There were a few attempts at cellular Wear OS (then Android Wear) watches in the past, but none were particularly successful. The LG Watch Sport, for instance, was a clunky nightmare.

Illustration for article titled Googles Planned Updates for Wear OS Are Underwhelming
Image: Google
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That said, improvements to app loading times would be extremely welcome on Wear OS. Given that the 4100 chip finally moves from 28nm to 12nm process technology, forthcoming Wear OS watches should be exponentially snappier. And while the shift from Android Wear to Wear OS also came with a much, much better interface, it’s still not uniformly easy to launch Google Fit workouts from your main watch face, compared to the Apple Watch and Samsung’s various smartwatches. That’s in part due to the fact that Wear OS isn’t beholden to a single manufacturer. For instance, it’s way easier to launch a workout on a Suunto 7, which promotes using the Suunto app over Google Fit, than it is on one of Fossil’s several Wear OS watches.

But the Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 4100+ platforms weren’t announced that long ago. While we’ll have to wait and see how companies take advantage of the new chipsets, it’s at least nice that Google hasn’t completely forgotten that Wear OS exists. As for when we might see meatier updates, who can say? Google has definitely signaled a renewed interest in wearables, given its acquisition of $40 million in Fossil tech and its pending purchase of Fitbit. Google executives have also paid a fair amount of lip service to “ambient computing,” which would likely include wearables in some shape or form. All this would seem to indicate that Google has something cooking in the wearables space...just don’t hold your breath for a Pixel Watch anytime soon.

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Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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DISCUSSION

I’m so over waiting for a decent Wear OS watch at this point (used to have a 1st gen Moto 360 and later a 2nd gen Asus Zenwatch) that I went ahead and bought an Apple Watch.

It’s a good thing that I have a work iPhone I can pair it to, but even when I leave the iPhone at home, I can tether my Apple Watch to my Pixel 3 and still get 99% of the benefit of an Apple Watch: voice calls, notifications, health monitoring, GPS, Apple Pay, offline music/podcasts, etc.

The only thing I miss from Wear OS are the wrist flick gesture controls. Those are SO much better than touch-based controls.