When news spread over the weekend that Fossil was giving up on Wear OS smartwatches, I immediately thought of the iconic Queen song, “Another One Bites the Dust.” Instead of feeling sad that another brand is exiting the Android smartwatch game, I felt frustration and disappointment. I’ve mentioned many times before that I’m a fan of smartwatches. For better or worse, I always wear one, which is, more often than not, a Wear OS device. One of the main reasons for this is my preference for variety.
So, as the options for Wear OS wearables continue to decline, my irritation towards Google, and to a certain extent Samsung, grows. Despite there being some really great Android smartwatches to choose from, the platform’s fans are quickly losing options. One of the things that we enjoy on the smartphone side of things is variety. Unfortunately, the US is less fortunate than other parts of the world in this regard. Ultimately, we can attribute the crumbling of Wear OS to Google.
Choice is being taken from Wear OS fans
This isn’t the first time that I’ve been critical of Wear OS and what Google is, or rather isn’t, doing to the platform. Last fall, I wrote about how the Wear OS relaunch has been a failure and the fact that Google Assistant is a mess on Wear OS. While inside, I hoped Google’s neglect of the platform was done and that it would do better in supporting its OEM partners in the future. Yeah, I was wrong.
To be honest, we should have seen the exit of Fossil from Wear OS coming when Google bought a large chunk of “smartwatch technology” from Fossil back in January 2019. Fossil made some of the nicest-looking wearables up until that point and had come up with good ideas for its devices. At least as much as Wear OS would allow back then. Because back in 2019, smartwatch brands using Wear OS couldn’t customize the software. All that was allowed was some custom apps for the watch. So, at that point, all manufacturers could do to differentiate from the next watch was in custom apps or, more often than not, in watch styles.
When Wear OS 3 arrived in August 2021, Samsung got first crack at it with the Galaxy Watch 4 series. At the time, Android smartwatch fans were elated. Despite how good Samsung wearables had been when those devices were running the in-house Tizen OS, the platform lacked some key components — mainly access to the Google Play Store. But as time went on and news about when (or if) older Wear OS watches would be able to get updated was slow to trickle out, like many others, I got nervous.
After initially saying that existing Wear OS devices would not get updated to the new platform, months later, Google said that some watches would be eligible for the update so long as the internal specs were up to scratch. Fossil was the first OEM to get the Wear OS 3 update out to its wearables, but it took nearly a year after Samsung debuted it and another year to get Wear OS 3.5, with that update not arriving until November 2023. By that time, Samsung had released both the Galaxy Watch 5 series and the Galaxy Watch 6 series, the latter arriving with Wear OS 4.
These delays aren’t entirely on Google, but it plays a key part in the issue. While not all the details are public, it sure seems that Google had to sell part of its “soul” to get Samsung onboard with Wear OS. In doing so, it seems to be letting the Android behemoth dictate platform access. Not even Google gets to have the latest version of Wear OS on its wearable before Samsung.
It makes some sense that Google would want Samsung on its wearable platform so badly. It is the largest Android brand in the world. But to secure Samsung’s participation, the Wear OS platform as a whole has suffered. Google took so long to refresh the platform that it had to hand over at least partial control to Samsung. Unfortunately, all Wear OS has really gained since its relaunch is Samsung, OEM skinning, and for non-Samsung devices running Wear OS 4, the ability to back up and transfer your watch to a new phone. I say non-Samsung devices because Galaxy wearables have been allowing this feature for years.
As I wrote back in September, Android wearables need some fresh ideas to compete with the Apple Watch, and this isn’t it. Diluting the options that Wear OS fans get to choose from by neglecting the platform for years and then tying one watch hand behind the case of brands not named Samsung or Google continues to weaken the platform. The way the Wear OS relaunch happened and the long delays from third-party OEMs in getting the update really make it seem that the updated code wasn’t shipped to brands until Samsung released its new watches. Putting all those manufacturers at a big disadvantage in the marketplace.
Wear OS devices are slowly turning into bad copies of the Apple Watch
As great as the Apple Watch is, it’s the opposite of what Android is and by extension, what Wear OS was. While Wear OS fans do have more options than Apple users do, these options have drastically dwindled over the years, shrinking even further around the Wear OS 3 release. Now that we’re losing Fossil, Android smartwatch users who want a Wear OS watch are down to three main choices: Samsung, Google, or Mobvoi. And the latter doesn’t even have access to the Google Assistant on its newest smartwatch running Wear OS 3.5.
With the way things are going, Mobvoi may not be around much longer, either. This would make me very sad as I have been a fan of what the brand does for a long time. But even more so because, with only watches from prominent phone manufacturers to choose from, Wear OS would largely be a bad copy of what Apple has to offer. Sure, we’d have two choices remaining, but just barely. Though the exit of Fossil from Wear OS isn’t entirely a shock, it is a stark reminder that unless you have a massive marketing budget and can give away your Wear OS smartwatches, life as an Android smartwatch maker can be a brief one.