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Fitbit solved a big annoyance with wearables; why won't Google or Apple follow?
The bane of my existence as a techie is switching my primary phone. I have to set aside an entire day to get things done properly since I always do a clean install — no backups or restores. I wouldn’t want to carry over any residual bug or issue from one device to another and thus unfairly judge the new phone.
Between installing apps, logging in and setting up preferences, transferring WhatsApp, making sure my Bluetooth headset and buds are paired, configuring any smart home gadget that requires geolocation or local control, and more, there’s so much to do… until I hit one final roadblock: my wearables.
Switching to a new phone is already time-consuming, before you factor in the annoyance of re-pairing your smartwatch or tracker.
There, Fitbit does things right. It allows me to pair my activity tracker or watch to a new phone in a few minutes. Samsung, Google (and all Wear OS watches), and Apple don’t. They require me to wipe my smartwatch before pairing it with a new phone. Why?
How Fitbit handles pairing to a new phone
This is how things go with Fitbit. On my new phone, I open the Fitbit app and log into my account. My data is immediately visible there and my band — now an old and beaten Inspire HR — shows up but is not paired. I tap its name and enable the Nearby permission to let the app scan Bluetooth devices. It finds my Fitbit, asks me to pair it, and after a couple of taps, it’s all done. The six screenshots above show the entire flow, which takes five minutes. At most.
Fitbit offers a seamless transition between phones. No backups, resets, or restores.
My Inspire HR is now synced to my new phone and all of the settings and data have carried through because nothing has changed on the tracker itself. I don’t need to back up, reset, restore, or take any other extra steps. It’s a quasi-seamless transition and it works the same way for any Fitbit activity tracker or smartwatch I’ve used.
As far as I can tell, Garmin handles things relatively similarly to Fitbit save for one extra step; you just have to unpair your band or watch from the old phone first before pairing it to the new one, but you don’t need to reset it.
How Samsung, Apple, and Google do it
With the Apple Watch or the most recent Samsung Galaxy Watch models, this same transition is way more tedious. I have to go into the watch’s app on my old phone and back up my data. Then I grab the watch, reset it, and often need to go through setup as if this was a brand new smartwatch. After that, I can pair the watch with my new phone, go through all the menus there as well, and when things are finally settled, I can choose to restore my backup.
Moving a Galaxy Watch, Apple Watch, or any Wear OS watch to a new phone is convoluted and an utter waste of time.
All in all, I have to set aside anywhere between ten minutes and an hour to do this. One YouTuber said the main step of the restoring process took 56 minutes on his Apple Watch. And as I’m writing this, I’m going through it on my Galaxy Watch 4. It’s been stuck at 33% of the watch face restore step for ten minutes and counting (see image above); how long it’ll stay there is anyone’s guess. If it doesn’t work, I’ll have to reset the watch a second time and try again.
The whole process is unnecessarily convoluted, time-consuming, and potentially buggy. It feels like the late ’90s or early ’00s when any Bluetooth gadget had to be reset before being paired to a new device. We’re two decades past that now.
It feels like the early '00s when any Bluetooth gadget had to be reset before pairing again. We're two decades past that.
And let’s not even mention other Wear OS watches. Google doesn’t include a backup/restore process by default in its platform, so watchmakers have to do it themselves. And many obviously don’t. Which has forced me to set up everything — watch faces, apps, shortcuts, settings — from scratch on many of my watches over the last few years. (I know there’s an ADB workaround to pair without resetting, but it often leads to issues down the line.)
Will the Pixel Watch fix this?
We have so many questions about the upcoming Google Pixel Watch, and this is one of them: How will Google’s new smartwatch handle the transition between phones? Will Google borrow Fitbit’s seamless approach? After all, it owns Fitbit now, so that wouldn’t be much of a stretch. Or will it stick with its tried-and-true “just set it up from scratch” approach? Again, it’s Google we’re talking about, and the company took a decade to (nearly) master the art of backups and restores on Android phones. It might as well take another decade to do it right for other product categories.
Do you want the Pixel Watch to seamlessly transition and pair to your new phone?
I guess I’m also curious about the future of Google’s ecosystem. We know that manufacturers will have to build their own apps for Wear OS 3.0 watches because the update is not compatible with the existing one-size-fits-all Wear OS app. So some makers might decide to implement a fast and effortless transition to new phones while others don’t. Only time will tell.