The rumors just won’t go away, and it looks as if we are going to get a Pixel Watch this year. A Made by Google smartwatch could provide the vital stimulant that Wear OS is crying out for. All signs are positive for fans of wearable tech.
Calls for a Pixel Watch have been around forever. Google has never had a direct rival to the Apple Watch or even the Samsung Galaxy Watch. Sure, Mountain View has more than dipped its toes in smartwatches when it comes to working with third-party manufacturers running its software, but never with its own hardware.
Google has been fielding questions about a first-party smartwatch since the Nexus days, and the company has always distanced itself from the idea. Even as recently as August last year, when we were anticipating the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones, Google said that its focus was on working with its third-party partners. “To think of one-size-fits-all watch, I don’t think we’re there yet,” was the party line.
Fast-forward six months, and if all the leaks and rumors are to be believed, it seems like ‘yet’ is no longer the case. Fish-based code names have recently appeared on the Android Open Source Project website, and two of the reviewers attached to the project are on the Wear OS team. The fact that there are three code names fuels rumors from last year that Google was working on not one, but three iterations of a Pixel Watch.
Google also recently bought a load of smartwatch technology from the Fossil Group. The deal, worth around $40 million, included patents, processes and staff, with part of the smartwatch development team at Fossil going to work for Google.
Then there is the fact that Alphabet’s prescription-only smartwatch, the Study Watch, has just been granted FDA clearance for its electrocardiogram (ECG) as a Class II medical device - the same as Apple’s Series 4 Watch. The ECG feature is a big part of Apple’s marketing for its latest smartwatch, but having an FDA-approved electrocardiogram is no longer unique to Apple.
So, all signs point to an upcoming Pixel Watch or three. Google has been stepping up its interest in Wear OS since it ditched the Android Wear name. Substantial updates over the past year have improved things, but Wear OS is still far from perfect.
What is the problem with Wear OS at the moment?
Wear OS, and before it, Android Wear, suffers from the same fragmentation problem as Android. With staggered updates, third-party devices can quickly become outdated and the only real solution is to wait for the manufacturer to get the latest version of the software running on its hardware.
Picture the scene in a couple of months time - Google presents its long-rumored, large-scale fitness project Google Coach. The AI trainer in your smartwatch, as information suggests. It looks cool, but you have no idea when it will eventually land on your Mobvoi Ticwatch E2 or Emporio Armani Connected - that's not something Apple Watch users have to deal with.
Then there is the addition of the Play Store on Google’s OS for wearables. Since Android Wear 2.0, consistency between the apps you install on your smartphone and your smartwatch has been all over the place. The way apps worked on Android 1.X, where when you updated the app on your smartphone it would also update on your smartwatch, just worked better for most users.
Battery life management has also been a source of frustration on Wear OS, as has the sluggish performance of Google Assistant. But all of this could be about to change.
Why Wear OS needs a flagship device
There’s no denying that if Google really wants to develop Wear OS as a platform that can compete with the Apple’s watchOS, it needs a Pixel Watch. Diversity is Android’s strength and Apple’s weakness, but in the smartwatch market that single-device focus is why Apple sells more smartwatches than anyone else.
The fragmentation issue would be solved with a Made by Google smartwatch, for Pixel Watch owners at least. Pixel devices are first in line when it comes to software updates, so the sluggish updates issue is removed.
You would also expect to see Google take more care with Assistant integration on a Pixel Watch than it would on say, a Huawei Watch 2, or something. One of the reasons why the Pixel smartphones are so popular with Android fans is that they make the most of Google’s latest AI features.
You only need to look at Google’s own photo app on the Pixel phones to see what the company can do with software when it has complete control over the hardware. A Pixel Watch with a better Google Assistant would have several applications across health and fitness apps, as well as for daily productivity.
Any potential Pixel Watch is also likely to feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 3100, the company’s first chip that has been built with smartwatches at the forefront of the thinking. More power and improved battery management will open even more doors that Google can take advantage of with highly optimized Wear OS software.
Google's next I/O developer conference is in May, and that is quickly becoming the likely candidate for when will see the Pixel Watch officially for the first time. We could also be forced to wait until October, of course, for the 2019 Pixel event.
Whatever happens with Google and smartwatches this year, it is clear that Mountain View has big plans for this market. Apple, Fitbit, Garmin, listen up - the big G is coming.