A WearOS Update for Lefties May Still Be Possible, Experts Say

Opinions are mixed, and a solution for existing devices won't be perfect

Key Takeaways

  • Reorienting the interface for a WearOS device, particularly the physical buttons, could be difficult to manage with a simple update.
  • While third-party apps that invert the UI do exist and show that it’s possible, they’re not completely reliable or without flaws.
  • However, between existing apps proving it can be done and the Apple Watch offering the feature from launch, it seems like a plausible solution.
Someone wearing a watch on their right arm, pointing to it with their left hand.

AaronAmat / Getty Images

Google's apparent decision to only provide a UI flip option (intended for lefties) in new WearOS hardware has left users frustrated, and experts conflicted.

Left-handed WearOS users have been asking Google for the feature since 2018, pointing out that it would be more comfortable and less prone to accidental button pressing. In January 2022, Google confirmed a resolution, stating, "Our development team has implemented the feature you have requested and will be available on future new devices."

The stated implication that the feature won't be coming to existing WearOS devices (i.e., smartwatches these users already own) has become a sticking point. Users are frustrated at the possibility of having to buy a new smartwatch, and experts are undecided as to whether or not the restriction is even necessary in the first place.

Stephen Curry, CEO of digital signature service CocoSign, believes that it's not impossible for Google to add the feature to existing hardware, but it could be difficult. "The UI flip could be difficult to implement efficiently through a patch or firmware update," Curry said, in an email to Lifewire, "This is because, to achieve complete usability on either arm, the watch will have to invert the scrolling direction of the rotating crown when a user switches arms."

Flip-flopped

Depending on how Google intends to (or has to) approach the addition of an interface reorientation option, hardware adjustments might be necessary. As Curry points out, it could depend on how the watch's physical buttons are arranged. There are some third-party apps, like Lefty, that will invert a WearOS watch face, but they all have problems—lending credence to the idea that a digital update won't be enough.

Someone wearing a watch on their left arm and holding a pencil in their left hand above a table

Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

"Currently, third-party apps exist that flip the UI for right-hand wear, but they cannot invert the buttons," Curry said, "This points to the solution being a native one that entails hardware changes. Since the inversion is compulsory for complete efficiency, Google cannot implement it on its older watches."

This doesn't necessarily mean that a digital fix for all current WearOS smartwatches would be impossible, however. And as Curry stated, Google hasn't officially stated that it wouldn't offer some form of update for existing users. Right now, the situation is a bit hazy, with current WearOS users unsure of whether Google will require a new hardware purchase or not.

"It is unknown whether they can and choose not to, although the implementation could be tricky without a hardware change," Curry said, "Alternatively, Google can decide not to implement it to maximize sales when the new flip UI watches roll out."

Flop-Flipped

On the other hand (watch pun very much intended), without transparency from Google, other experts believe there might not be a need to limit the feature to new hardware. In fact, WearOS' biggest rival, the Apple Watch, supported UI inversion since the beginning. So the technology is clearly available and likely not terribly complex compared to everything else needed to make a smartwatch function properly.

"This does seem odd and potentially like too much of a marketing tactic," Carla Diaz, Co-Founder of internet and TV service database Broadband Search, told Lifewire in an email, "which is a shame for those who have invested in an android smartwatch."

Closeup of someone wearing a watch on their right wrist.

Sven van der Pluijm / Unsplash

Diaz is also skeptical because the third-party apps, which are imperfect but have been around for some time, prove that a smartwatch screen flip can be done. And while these apps didn't affect physical button orientation, that may not be enough of a problem to justify an aversion to a digital update.

"Even before OS3, there were third-party apps that allowed for screen rotation for left-handed people, even if it didn't allow for any of the buttons to also change in orientation," Diaz stated, "That shows there aren't necessarily any hardware limitations in place which are keeping the new WearOS update from also being included in older smartwatch models, or even via patches to older WearOS versions."

Assuming Google can't change the orientation of physical buttons on WearOS smartwatches, there is a certain logic to limiting a reorientation feature to new devices. It might need to make some internal adjustments to allow a toggle that won't conflict with other watch functions. However, if the only issue holding everything back is occasionally having to press Up instead of Down, is it really necessary to withhold it from current WearOS owners?

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