Seven years is a long time in the world of technology. But we have to go back to a rather momentous day seven years ago when LG launched its LG G Watch. Not only was it the first LG smartwatch but it was also the first wearable based on Google’s Android Wear — which is now better known as Wear OS. After creating a stir in the smartphone market, the question was could Google deliver in the smartwatch market? In those seven years, Wear OS has seen a lot of ups and downs and there was a time when there were actual doubts about where it is heading. Now, Google’s revamped Wear OS 3 comes riding on Samsung’s shoulders to do what the tech giant hasn’t done in seven years: become a bonafide success in the smart watch market.
Partnership with Samsung: It matters more to Google
There hasn’t been good Android smartwatches or rather not one that can truly challenge the market leader — Apple Watch. Samsung makes really good watches that work seamlessly with its phones. But Tizen OS — what Samsung had before Wear OS 3 — wasn’t up to the mark compared to watchOS. It was still better than what Wear OS had to offer. Samsung’s smartwatches stood out but lacked third-party app support, which it should now get with Wear OS.
Google needs Samsung more because there’s no other big brand that actually makes smartwatches that run on Wear OS. The Chinese brigade — Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme and others — have their own customised OS for smartwatches. Fossil is the only big mainstream brand that carries the Wear OS flag. But it hasn’t really emerged as the Android alternative to the Apple Watch.
A report by Counterpoint in May 2021 revealed that Google’s market share in smartwatch OS stood at 4%. Apple’s watchOS had a 35% market share. Why? Because Wear OS, as per Counterpoint, “has been lacking behind in terms of features, battery optimisation and chipset support.”
Google is betting on Samsung’s hardware to give its Wear OS a new lease of life. And it won’t just be Samsung as sooner or later other brands would perhaps want a pie of Wear OS if it delivers on what it promises.
The Fitbit factor
In 2019, Google spent close to $2.1 billion to acquire Fitbit and the deal finally went through in January 2021. Fitbit remains a brand to reckon with but slowly lost steam as cheaper options emerged and Apple continued to dominate the premium smartwatch market. Fitbit had some kind of “first mover” advantage but couldn’t really sustain it that well.
On paper, the Google-Fitbit deal is a match made in heaven for Google. It gets pretty good hardware from Fitbit and it can blend its Wear OS seemingly well with it. Google with FitBit has the Apple advantage — it can control both the software and the hardware. Something which now ironically Samsung can’t completely control because of well, Google. Google’s Fitbit plans haven’t been clear though as the company has been rather quiet on that front, except a few noises made to keep the industry watchers guessing. For Wear OS to make a dent in the smartwatch space, Google needs to get the Fitbit factor working.
Could Wear OS finally get Google and Samsung to compete with Apple?
The Android user base is somewhere around 3.5 billion and a lot of it is budget and entry-level devices for consumers who perhaps won’t be in the market for a smartwatch. Keeping them aside for a while, it’s still a huge market waiting to be tapped — something that no one has truly done. Or at least not like Apple has done with its Watch and watchOS. It’s hard to find a premium smartwatch other than Apple Watch that does everything really well — except the battery life.
Google is relying on Samsung’s hardware to take a shot at Apple and it could pave the way for an ‘Android watch’ that has the familiarities of an OS that Android users are familiar with. Android users need an Apple Watch — more in terms of software — of their own and they would be looking towards Google to provide one. Seven years after its launch, the question perhaps remains the same: can Google finally deliver?