On the 18th of March 2014, Google launched Android Wear, its software solution for wearables (smartwatches). Now, five years later and with a new name (Wear OS), how much has the platform grown and improved?
Unfortunately, not that much.
No matter where you look, most tech journalists won't recommend Wear OS to anybody. Android Police's own founder abandoned the platform months ago.
I switched to a Galaxy Watch months ago.
Android Central in its hands-on article covering the Galaxy Watch Active, claimed that Samsung's latest offering (which runs on Tizen) was better than every single Wear OS device currently in the market.
Seriously, why would you get anything with Wear OS over this?
Engadget published a good piece that looks back at Wear OS over the last five years, from its inception through numerous software upgrades which were meant to improve the platform. Yet despite all that, Wear OS is still not as "mature" as people would expect.
In its five years, Google's OS has grown smarter and more useful and has even undergone a serious makeover. But the system, now known as Wear OS, still doesn't feel fully matured.
So what went wrong? Well for starters, it's not that the smartwatch market is stagnating. Quite the opposite. In 2018, smartwatch sales increased by 54.3% according to the IDC, so more people are buying smartwatches, which should incentivise all parties involved. Yet for some reason, all parties involved in Wear OS seem to be dragging their feet.
Google still doesn't have its own smartwatch, despite rumours of a Pixel Watch persisting for so long, Qualcomm took two years to design a new wearable-focused processor, the Snapdragon Wear 3100 coming in 2018 after 2016's Snapdragon Wear 2100, and many long-time Android partners who initially supported Wear OS (then Android Wear) have abandoned ship, either completely exiting the smartwatch market all together or choosing to go with their own in-house software instead of Wear OS. Motorola, maker of the much loved Moto 360, exited the market after just two years, citing weak demand as the reason behind the decision. Huawei, the company which made one of the best reviewed Android Wear smartwatches ever, decided to use its own in-house software for all future smartwatches made by the company, possibly leaving Wear OS due to weak support from Google. Finally, despite being one of Google's launch partners when Android Wear was first announced, Samsung has yet to release a smartwatch running Wear OS since then, instead opting to launch all of its smartwatches with Tizen.
Perhaps "doomed" is too strong a word. There are some good Wear OS watches out there. The Fossil Sport, Mobvoi TicWatch Pro, and Skagen Falster 2 have all been well reviewed. However, their good reviews aren't really due to Wear OS, but in spite of Wear OS. These watches were praised for their looks and their selling price, not the software.
I've been interested in buying a smartwatch for a long time, but I just never felt convinced enough to actually buy one. The combination of Wear OS' negative perception among reviewers as well as the slightly inhibitive pricing has kept me away thus far, so instead I've been using a Xiaomi Mi Band 2 as like a gateway drug into the wearable market. I still want to try and use a smartwatch, and with the Galaxy Watch Active arriving in Malaysia next week, I'm definitely going to check it out in person. At just RM799 ($195), it's about RM400 (almost $100) cheaper than any other current gen Wear OS watch available in the country.
Do you have a Wear OS smartwatch? How do you like it? Or if you don't have a smartwatch, would you consider Wear OS or look elsewhere?