How Wear OS Could Make Android Smartwatches Better

Strength in unity

Key Takeaways

  • Lack of support for Wear OS has splintered the Android smartwatch market, making it difficult for consumers to find watches that fit their needs.
  • The fragmentation in the Android smartwatch market has led to confusion and frustration, with some apps only designed for specific Android watch operating systems.
  • Experts say a more unified approach with Wear OS could make it easier for users to find an Android smartwatch that suits them.
man tries out a generic but modern looking touch screen smart-watch on his wrist

RyanJLane / Getty Images

Experts say Google could use Wear OS to create a more unified Android smartwatch experience, but it’s going to take some work.

Google recently introduced Gboard, its popular smartphone keyboard for Wear OS, marking the first major app launch the smartwatch operating system had seen in years. On top of that, Google reassured Android fans that the OS is still very much alive, going so far as to tease that new features are in the works. Despite these promises, experts say the biggest thing holding back Wear OS is its fragmented user experience.

"The problem with Wear OS is it’s splintered. Wear OS still feels like a side project and no-one really knows what devices it works well with," Martin Meany, a tech expert with Goosed.ie, told Lifewire in an email. "People buying Android phones still can’t be sure Wear OS will work for them. They can’t be sure the apps they want to try will work."

United We Stand

Wear OS originally was introduced in 2014 as Android Wear. Since then, the smartwatch-based operating system has changed names a couple of times—from Android Wear to Wear OS by Google to just Wear OS. Despite the rebranding, not much about it has changed when it comes to overall support.

"Wear OS still feels like a side project and no-one really knows what devices it works well with."

Small updates released each year have kept the operating system alive, but they haven’t been enough to keep some of Google’s original partners—like Samsung—interested in the OS. Furthermore, other smartwatches and fitness trackers that utilize Android have started to pop up with their own operating systems, including popular fitness company Fitbit.

Because there are so many different variations of Android smartwatch operating systems available, it has led to a fragmented market that only serves to breed confusion for consumers. That, Meany says, is one of the biggest reasons Apple’s watchOS has seen so much success, compared to the Android options available right now.

The Suunto 7 smartwatch that uses Wear OS

Suunto

"Apple Watch soars from strength to strength on the back of the Apple ecosystem," Meany told us, noting that the operating system just works. Users also don’t have to worry about whether or not the watch they buy will work with the apps they want to use, or if the watch will even connect well to their phone.

Google promised it’s bringing some new features to the operating system this year, though, and there are reports and rumors circulating that Samsung could move away from the operating system it has been using the past few years to re-embrace Wear OS. If that happens, we could see more unification within the overall system, which would make it easier for consumers to find new watches that fit their lifestyles.

Flexibility and Performance

Another area that Wear OS has struggled with in the past is overall performance and battery life. That could also change, though, as Qualcomm in 2020 announced new chipsets designed just for Android smartwatches. This should bring better performance and allow for more app implementation on the devices, themselves.

"The chips that support the OS need to be upgraded to be in line with Apple and Samsung's newest offerings," Rex Freiberger, a tech expert with GadgetReview, told Lifewire in an email. "They also need to clean out and streamline the OS to eliminate the issue of apps siphoning processing power in the background."

Additionally, battery life is a huge concern, especially in smartwatches making more of a move towards health-oriented applications like fitness tracking, sleep tracking, and even blood pressure monitoring. Low battery capacity and efficiency was a big part of what pushed Fitbit to make its own operating system in the first place. If Google can make it easier for companies to use battery-saving features on newer chips with Wear OS, it could breathe new life into the platform.

Google implementing these features in a future Wear OS version could finally lead to Android smartwatches becoming more unified. Consumers could pick out a watch they like without worrying if it will support the apps and other devices they want to use.

"Anything away from the ‘it just works’ experience of Apple Watch is a hornets nest for consumers," Meany said, also noting that Wear OS needs to embrace that same philosophy in the future.

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