The wearable industry has long made fun of Google’s Wear OS platform, but things are now changing. Wear OS is now receiving a fair chance after years of neglect.
Over the past year or two, there has been a lot more to be excited about in the Wear OS realm. The Snapdragon Wear 4100 series improved the performance of Fossils’ most recent watch line, while the Galaxy Watch 4 introduced Wear OS 3. Additionally, Google is finally producing a Pixel Watch!
But today saw Qualcomm finally producing a quality processor, giving the Wear OS market its biggest boost to far. One of only two things is undoubtedly allowing Wear OS an opportunity to develop and flourish.
The bare minimum is exchanged by Qualcomm for maximum effort. The significance of today’s unveiling of the Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 chip cannot be overstated.
Since the platform was known as Android Wear, Qualcomm has been the leading name in chips for Android-powered smartwatches, but the company has only ever offered the bare necessities.
The 2016 Snapdragon Wear 2100 was based on outdated technology despite having several wearable enhancements. The chip’s 28nm manufacturing technique was a long cry from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820’s 14nm manufacturing process from the same year. That was mostly okay at the time. The smartwatch market was still developing, and Android Wear wasn’t very demanding.
With the Snapdragon Wear 3100, which was essentially the same chip but with a co-processor to offload a few functions, Qualcomm doubled down on utilizing that antiquated technology two years later. At that moment, pressure was mounting. The Snapdragon 845 in 2018 used a 10nm manufacturing process, and Google’s platform demanded higher performance. Wear OS was being actively hampered by a 28nm chip, and performance improvements from even doubling the RAM were limited.
It required two years to get the next chip in place because Qualcomm had already established their layout. Given that the smartwatch market truly began to expand in 2019, and COVID struck in 2020, only further raising wearable demand but leaving Wear OS behind, that timing did not work out at all. Later in 2020, Qualcomm finally unveiled the Snapdragon Wear 4100 series with a vastly better 12nm technology, but it was too late to make a profit. For almost a whole year, Mobvoi was the only company using the 4100 series, and Fossils’ selection was at best average. Google had advanced to bigger and better things by developing Wear OS 3, which was released in 2021 and debuted on the fantastic Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 series.
Qualcomm has now made a complete turnaround. The Snapdragon W5 and W5 have great promises for performance and battery advantages and, to be honest, we believe them. They are constructed using a far more efficient 4nm technology. Since Qualcomm’s previous offering was vastly outperformed by the Galaxy Watch 4s 5nm CPU, a Snapdragon chip that outperforms Samsung should at least be competitive.
Simply put, this is huge. And it’s crucial to note that this chip can be used with multiple devices. The Exynos W920 in the Galaxy Watch 4 series is still unavailable to the general public, but the Snapdragon W5 series will be accessible to just about everyone. It’s impossible to imagine that Fossil won’t seize the chance over the next few months or so given that Mobvoi and Oppo are already on board.
For Wear OS, chips have always been the main issue. Although Google’s platform was generally effective on its own, it suffered from subpar performance, which also hurt apps. However, it was always a chicken-and-egg scenario. People didn’t want to purchase smartwatches that were hindered by these chip-related issues, thus Qualcomm had little motivation to provide better processors for the smartwatches that weren’t selling.
The issue has now been addressed by Qualcomm, and when combined with Wear OS 3, it creates a perfect storm that will offer the platform the breathing room it has always needed.
Google is providing the Android model to Wear OS. Beyond the chip, which is still the main issue, Google is also making Wear OS a far more adaptable platform.
When the platform was first introduced as Android Wear, Google made it clear that its OEM partners would not be able to modify it in the same way that they do with conventional Android phones. Any Android Wear wristwatch, regardless of manufacturer—Motorola, Samsung, Sony, LG, or anybody else—would share the same fundamental software. Wow, there really were a lot of partners in those days.
Over time, Google has gradually whittled away at that guideline. Some partners would provide unique programs, while others would change the system’s colors. In more recent models, Mobvoi began including its own app drawer, and over the past two years, Google has allowed for significant customization for some partners outside, notably Oppo.
But the true turning point is Wear OS 3.
Our first indication of what was to come was Samsung. Wear OS on the Galaxy Watch 4 is completely different from Google’s version. The Wear OS software is not used, and everything works differently. The Play Store, some essential system components, and the apps are the only components that transfer. Do any of these components sound familiar?
Wear OS is unmistakably adopting the Android business model, in which Google offers a base operating system that its partners are free to customize to their specifications. Some, like Samsung, will heavily customize their products. Some people, like Montblanc, appear happier with Google’s designs.
However, this also enables smartwatch partners to communicate with their clients more effectively outside of the watch itself. Every smartwatch will no longer use the same app. Samsung has a unique. There is one for Montblanc. Everyone will be working independently, including Google, which has a Pixel Watch app in development. Fossil is already doing so. For someone like me who manage many smartwatches, this is a pain, but it’s wonderful news for the regular consumer.
The experience that smartwatch developers seek to create, from pairing to management to fitness, can be fully realized in an app.
WILL IT BE A SUCCESS? The real question, though, is where we go from here because all the pieces are in place for Wear OS to ultimately experience significant development and success. Has too much harm already been done, though? Samsung is undoubtedly content and having success since switching to Google’s platform, but can Mobvoi, Fossil, and other companies bounce back after years of operating on their own?
We’ll just have to wait and see, I guess. But it’s undeniable that now is the best moment ever to hunt for a smartwatch to complement your Android phone.
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