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Wear OS 3 deserves a solid update commitment from Google
Indeed, combining operating systems with a company like Samsung means big things for the platform. Samsung’s Tizen-based smartwatches have consistently outperformed Wear OS watches in market share, so it’s no small thing that Samsung dropped its homegrown OS in favor of Google’s.
Also read: The best Wear OS watches you can buy
But before the two companies decided to join forces, there were fundamental differences in how Samsung and Google approached new builds of their software. Every year at its big Unpacked event, you could count on Samsung to put its Galaxy Watches and Tizen operating system center stage (just left of the new Galaxy S release, of course). Samsung fans consistently look forward to hearing updates from the company on what it’s been developing over the last year.
Google is different. It usually peppers out little software updates throughout the year, announcing them on its Wear OS help forums, then recaps what it’s been doing each year at Google I/O. Wear OS software updates — both major and minor — have traditionally arrived inconsistently and without much fanfare.
That’s unfortunately a problem, both for consumers and Samsung. Samsung was the sole developer of Tizen. It controlled when software updates were released and what features and bug fixes were included in each build. Now, it answers to Google. And Google hasn’t been the most timely or upfront about Wear OS updates, so what makes us think it will be now?
Google is remaining quiet — almost too quiet — on the status of Wear OS updates.
We recently reached out to Google to see if the company could give us any information on the future of Wear OS updates. Specifically, we asked if it had a general timeline for major feature updates or security patches. A Google spokesperson responded, “We don’t disclose that information,” and pointed us to a Wear OS 2 update support forum. Hardly the answer any of us were looking for.
I wouldn’t be making a deal out of this if other companies had the same issues, but they don’t. Samsung, Apple, Garmin, and other major wearables companies are clear and concise about their wearable software. Is it too much to ask for Google to do the same?
From death to life, just like that
Google has a habit of launching products, not putting enough effort into maintaining them, and letting them die. It sounds harsh, but it’s the world we live in.
Wear OS was even considered “dead” by many for quite some time. Despite Google claiming otherwise, Wear OS lacked polish, updates, and any noticeable development push from Google for a few years. This even prompted one brave Google I/O-goer in 2019 to ask Google’s David Burke directly during the Android Fireside Chat if Wear OS was, indeed, dead. Burke responded with a cheeky “Where is the Wear team? Do we have anyone here?”
I want to point out that this conversation took place right before Google announced its plans to acquire Fitbit. Things were likely very hush-hush at Google for this reason, so I don’t fault Burke for not having a lot to say on the subject. But because the comments were made during a livestream, on-stage at a major developer conference, it didn’t exactly paint a good picture for the future of Wear OS at that point. This was Google publicly laughing off the question of “Is Wear OS dead?”
Google went from 'who cares about Wear OS?' to 'we care about Wear OS' very quickly.
In 2021, Google went from “who cares?” to “we care” very, very quickly regarding Wear OS. It’s certainly a positive that Google has made so many strides with Wear OS lately, but there are still so many questions left unanswered about the platform. How often will it receive updates? What about routine security patches? Will there be delays in Wear OS update rollouts now that third-party watchmakers can add their own software skins? What happened to Google Assistant on Wear OS? These are all questions that will need answering eventually. And right now, it doesn’t look like Google is willing to publicly commit to anything.
Again, that’s a problem, primarily because of Google’s past. Last year, the company promised it would bring a shiny new YouTube Music app to Wear OS to replace Google Play Music. Google then shut down Play Music and didn’t launch a YouTube Music app for nearly a year, giving Wear OS users no decent way of listening to music on their smartwatches for that time. It’s this type of oversight that’s never wanted but usually expected.
Buyer beware: Don’t even think about buying a Wear OS 2 watch
There’s a joke in the tech industry that shows itself every time Google announces a new product. “How long until it hits the Google Graveyard?” can be found in more than a few circles on social media. As the saying goes, there’s a grain of truth in every joke. I wish that joke weren’t accurate, but it is, and Wear OS has been at the butt of that joke more times than Google would probably care to admit. It would be in Google’s best interest not to be so hush-hush anymore about Wear OS updates.
In Google’s defense
In Google’s defense, Wear OS 3 is a significant update, and I think it’s understandable if the company doesn’t have all the answers right away. There’s just so much we don’t yet know about how Wear OS updates will unfold over the next year or so.
Remember, Samsung is the only company with a build of Wear OS 3 out right now. Once Fossil, Mobvoi, the ghost of Motorola, and other companies start joining the party, there could be unforeseen issues that could delay development times. Google, understandably, probably doesn’t want to commit to a rigid schedule before it knows how all facets of the development process will play out.
We also don’t currently know what a “stock” or “vanilla” build of Wear OS 3 looks like. And unless Google announces reference hardware for the Wear OS 3 platform (which it probably won’t), we won’t know how smoothly Wear OS updates will take place until the first ones come around. What if Google is still developing the non-Samsung-ified version of Wear OS? It surely can’t commit to a software update schedule if it’s still in the process of developing the underlying platform.
I’ll also point out that Google hasn’t announced anything on Fitbit integrations into Wear OS. We know Fitbit staples like Active Zone Minutes and the Today app are coming to Wear OS, and we know Fitbit is developing hardware to run the new Wear OS, but we don’t have a solid timeline for when any of that will occur.
The wait for the Wear OS 3 update schedule continues
I have a feeling the wearables team at Google is going through a lot of big changes right now. And that’s a good thing! Google is trying to breathe new life into its once-stagnant OS, all while working alongside teams from Fitbit and Samsung to make sure the platform is as feature-rich as ever before.
Should Google commit to a Wear OS update schedule?
Wear OS has more eyes on it than it ever has before, and Google may not be used to that. It’s used to issuing software updates quietly on a help forum, not acting as the harbinger for an all-new cohesive platform that directly affects some of the world’s biggest wearables companies.
There are reasons for Google to be quiet right now, but unfortunately, the optics of that don’t bode well in the public eye. If Google is serious about Wear OS 3, the partners directly involved in its development, third-party app developers, and, of course, its users, it would commit to some type of software update schedule. For now, Google doesn’t really have anything more to say than¯\_(ツ)_/¯.