We are roughly four years into the life cycle of the operating system formerly known as Android Wear, and I can't help feel that Google still doesn't know what its smartwatch platform should be best known for.
We had those Google Now-powered contextual notifications, a concept I thought was actually a really great fit for a watch. Look down at my wrist to see if my bus is a few minutes away? I'm sold. But then Google decided to slowly kill that feature with every new Wear OS software update that rolled out.
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Then there was a shift in focus to Google Assistant, the smart assistant riposte to Siri and Alexa. Now, there's every chance that Google's smart assistant will emerge a better place to deal with your questions about what ingredients go into making a red velvet cake. Personally, though, I've never had a great experience using it on a smartwatch and I'm sure there's plenty of Wear watch owners out there that would agree with me.
So what will Google do next? According to one report, it's set to turn its attentions to health and fitness. The talk is of an assistant (yes, another one) called Google Coach. This coach will analyse your health and fitness data to make useful recommendations, which makes it sound very similar to what Fitbit offers to its users with its Coach platform. It'll also apparently offer training plans that adapt if you've decided to give a HIIT class a miss one week. But it won't just use health and fitness data for these recommendations, it'll also harness location and food logging data to suggest healthy places to grab something to eat or recipes to prepare at home. On paper, it sounds pretty great.
We had an inkling Google had plans to do something big when US editor Hugh spoke to Dennis Troper, head of product at Wear back in March. Troper said that one of the areas the Wear team was working on was, "more proactively coaching and motivating users to stay more active, and helping them with their overall wellbeing." And it sounds like Google Coach is what he was talking about.
Google Fit to me, has always felt like an aspect of Wear that could offer so much more
It now makes more sense that notable Wear hardware partner Fossil recently decided to launch its fourth-generation smartwatches, including the Michael Kors Access Runway, with more health and fitness focused features like built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring and swim tracking. The question is, will this shift in focus to health and fitness be what Google needs to push its smartwatch platform forward? It's tough to say, but at the very least it should bring it more in line with the more health-centric approach that Apple, Samsung and Garmin have taken with their smartwatches in recent years.
It's clear that whether it's counting steps or being able to check your resting heart rate, these are things that a lot of smartwatch owners want to be able to do. But it's the context of that data that really pulls that altogether. Google, with all of the data it already collects (whether you agree with it or not), is in a really great position to do that.
Google Fit to me, has always felt like an aspect of Wear that could offer so much more, but is a perfect example of Google not really know how it can make that happen. A smart assistant that can make sense of that information and make it relevant to people that don't just live in the gym or run for miles would be a great addition to the Wear platform. Apple, Samsung and Garmin have already made big strides in terms of what their smartwatches deliver on the health and fitness focus front. But if Google Coach is the real deal, and everything that it's rumored to include comes to fruition, a more health and fitness-centric OS could certainly pay off for a platform that needs something to give it a push in the right direction.