Few superfans have been treated worse over the years than folks who fly the Wear OS flag. The strong and passionate core that’s stuck by Google’s harebrained wearable efforts has suffered years of indignities and indifference, with many waiting and hoping for a “holy grail” in the form of a Google-made Pixel smartwatch. Recent leaks indicate it’s finally going to happen, but this is a make-or-break moment, and Google can’t afford to mess things up — as it has with so many of its recent hardware products.
Almost a decade of Wear OS disappointments
In 2014, Wear OS (then Android Wear) was much hyped, but when products finally landed, it felt like an also-ran — amusing, maybe, when it came to the novelty of strapping a computer to your wrist, but limited in its utility. The product category never really lived up to its promises and no one really understood that the future of wearables lay with health and fitness tracking.
With the wrong focus from the outset, the smartwatch market didn’t take off in the way so many smartphone companies expected it to. As noted in a prior retrospective, many of the brands that participated early on, like Motorola and Sony, gave up after just a few models.
In fact, one of the few companies that deeply invested in the platform ultimately had to give up smartphones altogether. LG was one of the few stalwarts that stuck it out with Google, starting early on with the first G Watch and kicking off the round OLED designs with the G Watch R and Urbane.
LG even experimented with things like analog watch hands in the LG Watch W7 hybrid, playing with the format in ways other manufacturers never did — by all appearances, LG actually cared about it.
The LG G Watch Style — expensive and missing features, but one of the most attractive Wear OS devices to date.
For other Wear OS brands, Google giving Samsung exclusivity for the snazzy new platform must have felt like a betrayal.
Perhaps no single tech fan group has suffered more over the years than Wear OS proponents. In 2020, Sundar Pichai called out smartwatches as one of the few places where Google hasn’t done “opinionated” work to lead by example and better guide the ecosystem.
Google’s product problem
Last year was challenging for Google. And one recent report indicates the Pixel’s buggy reputation is already bleeding over into the mainstream.
And almost all of those same complaints extend to the new battery-powered Nest Doorbell.
Google has a serious and well-documented problem of releasing products before they’re ready, with half-baked features or painfully obvious flaws.
Don’t mess it up
Hopes are concerningly high right now. Following the Fitbit acquisition, Google’s own smartwatch could have all sorts of extra functionality that Wear OS previously lacked — especially when it comes to sportier applications. For many, wearables are first and foremost for fitness, and it took over half a decade for Wear OS to even start playing catch-up there.
What little Wear OS can do when it comes to fitness simply adds to the work of using it.
Fitness isn’t the platform’s only shortcoming.
Prior Pixel Watch leaks.
To date, however, Wear OS simply has too many issues and shortcomings.
The Pixel Watch isn’t just an opportunity to turn that around; it’s pretty much a requirement. With the Pixel’s consistent reputation of issues preceding it every year, a Google-made wearable has one chance to dodge that association, if it carries the name. Google simply can’t mess this up.