Wear OS has changed. Google has worked to make its smartwatch operating system smarter, better at fitness and more compatible with iPhones. But it's been lacking a hero smartwatch to rival the likes of the Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watch. For the first time, it feels like that hero smartwatch could actually be coming.
Multiple reports have said Google is prepping a Pixel-branded smartwatch for this year, but what will it look like and what features will it host? That much is still up in the air, but we can certainly start the speculation. Here's what we think we know so far, plus what we're hoping to see from a Pixel watch.
A smarter smartwatch
After Google rebranded Android Wear to Wear OS, two of the goals it outlined for the newly minted operating system this year were to make it smarter and better at health.
Google has brought Wear OS a smarter Assistant with actions. It has also been on a tear, putting Assistant into as many devices as possible. The critical success of the Pixel line of phones is partly built on how it utilizes Assistant in features like Google Lens, and how AI is used to help take better photos.
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A smartwatch with a better Google Assistant means a more proactive assistant. Dennis Troper, head of product for Wear OS, told Wareable that Google wants Assistant on Wear OS to anticipate how it can help before a command is issued. Think of this like the Pixel's song identification feature. If there's a song playing in the background, the song and artist will pop up automatically on your home screen – no need to Shazam it.
You can likely expect a Pixel Watch to show off how helpful Assistant can be on the wrist, setting an example for the rest of the Wear OS partners. It'd be nice if Google could use Assistant, Google Maps and a new health focus to do things like track runs, or recommend running spots or food places or whatever else from your wrist.
Fit for deeper health tracking
Google has also improved how Wear OS handles fitness with the new Google Fit. There are two new goals here: Move Minutes and Heart Points. Move Minutes track how much activity you do, while Heart Points tracks how much intense activity you do.
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Google is also working on a new assistant called Google Coach, a proactive fitness coach that will analyze your health and fitness data to make better recommendations. This sounds like a very Pixel-y feature, and you can likely expect the Pixel Watch to at least have a heart rate sensor to take advantage of.
Google has a lot of avenues into the world of deeper health, especially with Verily Life Sciences also under the Alphabet umbrella. We saw Google and Nest come closer together to better improve Assistant in the smart home world, perhaps we could see more collaboration between Google and Verily. In fact, we think there's a chance Verily's Study Watch, which just got ECG clearance, could be a test bed for health features before a Google consumer watch.
Works with iPhone?
Wear OS is called Wear OS because Android Wear was a little confusing. The name made iPhone users feel like Android Wear smartwatches weren't for them, when the opposite was true.
The big question for the Pixel Watch is whether it'll also be compatible with iPhones, or whether it'll come with a range of features that just work better with Android phones. We saw a little of this with the Pixel Buds, which aren't as interesting or useful when you pair them with an iPhone rather than a Google Pixel.
Powered by new Qualcomm chips
Qualcomm's next-generation Snapdragon 3100 smartwatch chip is the first it's built from the ground up for smartwatches. There are several variations, with many including LTE and GPS.
The goal is to be able to better suit the needs of the smartwatches, and that's what this chip does, with more power, extended battery life, a better fitness experience and chips that allow for slimmer smartwatches. WinFuture reported that the upcoming Pixel Watch will run on the Snapdragon 3100.
Three Pixel Watches?
Back in 2018, reliable leaker Evan Blass first reported that Google would be launching a Pixel-branded smartwatch alongside the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. Then WinFuture followed up with its own report saying it wouldn't just be one Pixel Watch, there'd be three.
While Google ended up not launching a Pixel Watch alongside the Pixel 3, it's worth knowing that the three smartwatches are codenamed Ling, Triton and Sardine, though it's difficult to know what the differences between the three are.
More recently, the fish-based codenames salmon and medaka appeared on the Android Open Source Project website, a development platform for a wide variety of devices in different form factors. Fish-based names are often used for Google's own devices, and it's likely these are for smartwatches.
It's possible that Google was planning three devices, but has since cut that down to two for reasons unknown. It could just be one device in two sizes, or it could be two different devices aimed at two different audiences – one for fitness and one for more casual use.
The Fossil deal
Google just payed $40 million to Fossil for some secretive smartwatch technology. Specifically, some from Fossil's R&D team will be joining Google for a “new product innovation that's not yet hit the market”.
Fossil tells Wareable that this tech grew out of its Misfit acquisition, with features and products that aren't yet available in the smartwatch world. Similarly, Google tells Wareable that this is a new product line that will sit within the Wear OS family.
The entire deal is veiled in secrecy, and there are two possibilities here: One, Fossil was developing a hybrid smartwatch platform that Google is better poised to push forward. Or, two, this is some tech that's going to power the Pixel Watch.
When will the Pixel Watch launch?
This is a tough question to answer. You'd think that Google would debut a Pixel Watch alongside a Pixel phone at its yearly Pixel event in October, but that came and went in 2018 with nary a mention. Unless Google waits all the way until October 2019, the best chance is at Google I/O in May.