Google is rewinding the clock once more, collaborating with Samsung’s Tizen wearable operating system to create a new wearable OS tentatively dubbed “Wear”.
Wear OS has been abandoned by the company. It is attempting once more, this time with Samsung’s Tizen OS filling in the holes that Google, for some reason, cannot. It’s potentially good news for Android users looking for a good smartwatch, but it’s a scathing indictment of Google’s previous efforts in the smartwatch room.
There has never been a genuinely successful Android-powered smartwatch in the years after Google first launched Wear OS (neé Android Wear). For years, Samsung’s Tizen-powered watches have been the best choice, but they are still Samsung watches. They still work best with Samsung phones, and while they’re usable on other Android devices, there’s the annoyance of having to install additional helper apps to get them to work. It is not a smooth experience.
It’s easy to see why Google will want the advantages of battery life, app support, and efficiency that Samsung has cultivated over the years; it’s more difficult to see why Google hasn’t managed to develop all of this themselves.
Google is the founder of Android, one of the new era’s quintessential app development firms, the minds behind the universal part for over three billion smartphones worldwide. Its resources are virtually infinite, and it has made some significant investments in smartwatch and wearable computing over the years, including a $40 million investment in some of Fossil’s secret wearable technology in 2022 and a $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit. (This does not include the rest of Google’s hardware team, which includes the $1.1 billion it paid for HTC’s smartphone design team as well as the existing Pixel hardware group).
Nonetheless, despite all of its hardware, software, and engineering prowess, Google has completely struggled to transform its smartwatch platform into anything more than a curiosity. Part of this can be attributed to a lack of silicon support — Qualcomm’s Wear OS-powered Snapdragon chips were plagued by a years-long shortage before the release of the Snapdragon 4100 last year. There is only one Snapdragon 4100 watch on the market. Google’s Wear OS app updates in the last year have been minor and unimpressive.
But there hasn’t been a clear vision for what Wear OS should be for the past few years, and Google hasn’t provided one. And, based on the recent Samsung collaboration, it appears that the company is opting to forego the problem altogether, delegating the task of imagining the future of Android wearables to one of its partners instead.
Samsung used to sell an Android Wear watch before abandoning it in favor of its Tizen platform. OnePlus’ most recent smartwatch also does not have Wear OS. You’d have to mess up pretty badly to get partners to forego deep built-in integration and a plethora of applications on the Play Store, but Google has done it with Wear OS.
Perhaps the Tizen-hybrid Wear will correct this. It’s unquestionably a victory for Samsung, the unsung hero who will provide the critical backbone for Google’s third act of wearable hardware while reaping the benefits of the vast Android developer group.
And Google stands to gain a lot from this. There is one less rival for its upcoming smartwatch platform. Furthermore, there is the possibility of acquiring Samsung’s semiconductor expertise for future smartwatch chips, which will undoubtedly help with Qualcomm problems that the company has had in the past.
However, Google has yet to demonstrate that it can do the next step of its wearables any differently than the first two. And it’s a worrying sign that a firm better known for pioneering in tech engineering had to outsource the next wearable operating system to Samsung in the first place.