Wear OS 3 needs consistent support just as much as it needs new features.
There is no doubt that Wear OS 3 is an exciting venture for Google. Compared to Wear OS 2, what we’ve seen in the Galaxy Watch 4’s software is impressive. However, we still don’t get the full picture of Wear OS 3’s impact on non-Samsung smartwatches, especially on some smartwatches. The best Wear OS watches will receive the update later this year. While the prospect of receiving an update is exciting, I’m curious what will happen after the update.
One of the problems with Wear OS 2 is that Google largely ignored the platform. Any notable updates to the platform have been rare, and there have been other smaller updates scattered over the past few years, and it’s not uncommon for new features to be added to Wear OS. In 2019, Google added one of the most useful platform updates when it launched Tiles, allowing users to access apps without opening them. A year later, we finally got performance improvements with the HMR2 update. But beyond that, if users expect new features and enhancements, it’s mostly the OEMs.
For Wear OS 3, we most need consistent support from Google.
How long will the current device be supported?
After Google released Wear OS 3, one of the biggest questions was whether current smartwatches would receive the new version. Amid the uncertainty, Qualcomm stepped in to assure users that its current chips would technically support updates, including the aging Snapdragon Wear 3100. That’s certainly a surprising statement given the chip’s lack of performance, and Google’s quick step in to dispel those expectations doesn’t necessarily foster much confidence. Finally, Google announced that Wear OS 3 availability will be limited to select smartwatches running the updated Snapdragon Wear 4100.
In a way, it makes sense for Google to limit new updates to the latest chips as a way to get the best performance possible. However, the question remains – how long will these devices be supported? The Snapdragon Wear 3100 is only three years old, and support is already out the door. The Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform launched in 2020, but only recently has it started showing up on more smartwatches other than the TicWatch Pro 3 GPS.
Apple’s support for smartwatches is almost as good as it is for smartphones. Google needs to catch up.
If Google wants to convince any of us to buy any current Wear OS smartwatches other than the Galaxy Watch 4, we need to guarantee that these devices will have consistent support for years to come. Google already does this with its Android smartphones, and has worked with Qualcomm to ensure the chips can support multiple OS versions, so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t expand to its wearable platform.
Apple is also very good at this, supporting the Apple Watch Series 3 since its launch in 2017. Sadly, that’s still better than the support life of many Android phones, although that’s slowly changing. But you look at the Fossil Gen 5, which was released in late 2019, and it’s not expected to receive the latest update from Google, nor the performance improvements that come with it.
Qualcomm is rumored to be working on the Snapdragon Wear 5100, but support for the Wear 4100 should continue for the foreseeable future. The chipmaker has announced its commitment to the future of wearables. With the 4100 powering new smartwatches and devices like the OPPO Air Glass, it’s reasonable to see support continue for at least a while.
Wear OS 3 and above
Wear OS 3 is a pretty big update to Google’s platform, and we have high hopes for these features. We may not have a lot of support information, but as we’ve seen, Samsung has provided excellent software support, updating the watch to add new features, enhance existing features, and make improvements.
This has set our expectations for Google’s needs for Wear OS 3. While OEMs will have their own implementation on the software, it’s still Google’s platform, and the company has to demonstrate that it’s serious about maintaining it more than a major update. That means frequent updates to Wear OS 3, rather than just relying on OEMs to get the job done as in the past.
Google should treat Wear OS the same way it treats Pixel smartphones and Android devices.
In a perfect world, I’d like to see Google release monthly security patches and quarterly feature drops, similar to what it does with Pixel smartphones and Android phones. This allows Google to roll out bug fixes frequently and then focus on rolling out a few new features during a few months of the year. These feature drops could include new watch faces, new first-party apps, or even new features.
Assuming Google ever launched a Pixel Watch, the company could keep its best features on its own watch and then eventually bring them to other Wear OS watches.
In doing so, Google has not only shown that it will continue to put work into the platform, but also has more control over Wear OS, which will soon be at the mercy of smartphone OEMs installing their own UIs on watches.It enables OEMs from need Rolling out its own software features to make up for anything the platform might lack is something companies like Fossil have been doing for years. Of course, these OEMs will still have their own device-specific software features to differentiate themselves, and will receive OEM-specific updates to enhance them. But as Google puts more emphasis on Wear OS, the platform will likely continue to grow as more standard features are added, making it more appealing not only to potential buyers but also to OEMs who may be considering getting back on the bandwagon.
Google will likely roll out newer Wear OS iterations more frequently as the platform evolves. This means that this year or next year, we may have Wear OS 3.5, Wear OS 4, etc., which will introduce a stronger feature set. Apple provides a new version update to its smartwatch platform every year, and Google can almost do that by announcing a new version at Google I/O.
Google can even gauge interest by launching a beta program for Wear OS, so enthusiasts can help shape the platform and test new features that lead to major releases. Since we don’t expect to get a full Wear OS 3 update for some time, this will keep current Wear OS 2.x owners involved while Google finalizes it.
There’s still a lot to learn about Wear OS, and we’ve got more info here and there. As things get closer to launch, Google will likely let us know more about its plans for Wear OS 3 and beyond, and hopefully prove the update isn’t just a one-off.Until then, we will be in close contact watch on Galaxy Watch 4.
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