Wear OS vs. watchOS: Which Is the Better Software?

Wear OS works with Android and iPhone, but watchOS is exclusive to Apple's ecosystem

While several smartwatches are available that have proprietary software, the dominant platforms are the Google Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) and Apple watchOS. These operating systems provide different functionality, customization, and feedback to their respective devices. We compared the two to help you decide which one is right for you.

Overall Findings

Wear OS
  • Swipe to move between screens.

  • Use voice commands to navigate and access features.

  • Multi-platform.

  • Home screen is a clock with apps stored in another place.

  • Use voice control with Siri to dictate messages and make phone calls.

  • Locked to one type of phone.

Which wearable operating system you go with will largely depend on what kind of phone you use. WatchOS is designed to work with Apple iPhones only. Wear OS works with both iPhones and Android devices, but it loses some features when it pairs with an Apple device.

Device Compatibility: Wear OS Offers More Choice

Wear OS
  • Pairs with Android and iOS devices.

  • Available on multiple devices.

  • Only works with iPhones.

  • Available for Apple Watch.

Smartwatches pair with your phone using Bluetooth to bring notifications and other functionality to the watch display. This only works when the devices are compatible.

If you own an Android handset, choose a smartwatch with the Google Wear OS to reap the benefits of at-a-glance Google notifications on your wrist. If you have an Apple phone, you can use Wear OS. However, you won't get full connectivity with your apps. Similarly, if you're considering the Apple Watch, it only makes sense if you have an iPhone (version 5 and later).

As far as devices that support each operating system, Wear OS offers more flexibility. It's available on dozens of smartwatches from manufacturers including LG, Samsung, and Motorola. watchOS is only available on the Apple Watch, which has multiple models with different functionalities.

Interface: A Matter of Preference

Wear OS
  • Interacts with Google Assistant.

  • Interface is window or panel-based.

  • Physical buttons depend on device; navigate with taps and swipes.

  • Interface based on apps.

  • Navigate using taps, swipes, voice commands, side button, and Digital Crown.

Wear OS draws heavily from Google Assistant, the intelligent personal assistant that delivers up-to-date information on the weather, your commute, your recent Google searches, and more. On a Wear OS smartwatch, context-based updates pop up on the screen. Plus, navigating the Wear OS interface is easy; simply swipe to move from one screen to another.

The Apple Watch UI is different from the Wear OS interface. For one, the home screen displays the time as well as installed apps (represented by bubble-shaped icons). It's an attractive and colorful setup, though it might look too busy for some users. To jump into an app, tap its icon.

To go back to the home screen, press the digital crown, a nub on the side of the watch face that also scrolls and zooms in and out of on-screen content. The Apple Watch also has a side button that shows recently opened apps and unlocks Apple Pay.

Like Google Wear OS, the Apple Watch interface incorporates swiping for easy, at-a-glance information and updates from apps. watchOS provides a few more options based on the Apple Watch standard, physical buttons.

Voice Control: Apple Watch Wins on Features

Wear OS
  • Voice control to send messages, set alarms, and other shortcuts.

  • Voice control via Siri, the same digital assistant as on other Apple devices.

  • The microphone works with the speaker to allow phone calls and a walkie-talkie function.

  • Dictate text messages, open apps, control smart home accessories.

Wear OS offers support for voice commands that work as shortcuts on your smartwatch. For example, set reminders, send short text messages, and display directions. There’s no built-in speaker, but calls can be answered from the watch.

With the Apple Watch, you can reply to messages using voice dictation, and you can ask Siri questions just like you can on the iPhone. You can have a quick call using the built-in speaker, and use the Walkie-Talkie app to communicate with your friends who also own Apple Watches.

Because watchOS has Siri in it, it has most of the voice-control functions as the iPhone. You can open apps and control devices like smart bulbs and thermostats without picking up your phone.

Apps: Both Platforms Have What You Need

Wear OS
  • Thousands of available apps.

  • Dedicated section in the Google Play store.

  • Thousands of available apps.

  • While apps run directly on the watch, many mirror the iPhone version.

Both Wear OS and the Apple Watch have thousands of compatible apps, and the number continues to grow. There’s a dedicated Wear OS section in the Google Play store, where you’ll find Amazon and the popular running app Strava.

The Apple Watch has many high-profile apps in its arsenal, including one from Starwood Hotels that can be used to open a hotel room. With the American Airlines app, Apple Watch users can scan boarding passes from their wrists.

While apps are available for both platforms that run directly on each device, not all of the programs make the most of this feature. For the most part, smartwatch apps deliver notifications from the phone they're paired to so that you can see them with a glance at your wrist. Both platforms have impressive apps, however.

Final Verdict

Both platforms have strengths and weaknesses. As of now, Apple Watch supports more of the apps you're likely to use. It also offers a unique, visually striking interface. Google Wear OS has a cleaner look and a wider variety of voice control options.

If you're ready to purchase a smartwatch, it comes down to which smartphone you own and which features matter most to you. In any case, expect to see improvements on both platforms in the future.

  • How do I add music to Wear OS?

    Open the Google Play Store on your watch to find music apps like YouTube Music, Spotify, Shazam, and iHeartRadio. Unfortunately, there's no Apple Music app for Wear OS.

  • How do I update watchOS?

    To update watchOS, make sure your iPhone is up-to-date and near your watch. Then, on your watch go to Settings > General > Software Update and follow the on-screen instructions.

  • How do I update Wear OS?

    To update your Wear OS smartwatch, go to Settings > System > About > System Updates. To toggle automatic updates, go to Google Play > Settings > Auto-update apps.

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