Pixel Watch investigation: Everything we know, and what it needs to succeed

Google's making a hero smartwatch, but what could it be like?
Pixel Watch: What we know so far

Wear OS has changed. Google has been steadily working to make its smartwatch operating system smarter, better at fitness and more compatible with iPhones. But it's still lacking a hero smartwatch to rival the likes of the Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watch. At long last, though, it feels like that hero smartwatch could actually be coming.

There are persistent rumours that Google is prepping a Pixel-branded smartwatch, 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

Pixel Watch investigation: Everything we know, and what it needs to succeed

After Google rebranded Android Wear to Wear OS, two of the goals it outlined for the newly minted operating system were to make it smarter and better at health and fitness monitoring.

Google has brought Wear OS a smarter Google Assistant, capable of carrying out more tasks and requests. Since then it's also been on a bit of a tear, putting Assistant into as many devices as possible. The critical success of the Pixel line of phones is partly built on how they utilise Assistant in features like Google Lens, and how AI is used to help take better photos.

A smartwatch with a better Google Assistant makes for 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 straight from your wrist.

Fit for deeper health tracking

Pixel Watch investigation: Everything we know, and what it needs to succeed

Google has also improved how Wear OS handles fitness with Google Fit for both Android phone and iPhone users. There are two goals in Google's system: Move Minutes and Heart Points. Move Minutes track how much activity you do, while Heart Points track how much intense activity you undertake.

Essential reading: Best fitness trackers to buy

Google has also apparently been working for some time on a new assistant called Google Coach, a proactive fitness coach that will analyse 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 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 received 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 fully compatible with iPhones, like the rest of the Wear OS clan, or whether it'll come with a range of features that just work better with Android phones. We saw a little hint of this with the Pixel Buds, which aren't as interesting or useful when you pair them with an iPhone instead of a Google Pixel.

But with moves to improve support for software features like Google Fit, we'd like to think Google will let a Pixel Watch play nice with both of the world's two biggest smartphone platforms.

Powered by new Qualcomm chips

Pixel Watch investigation: Everything we know and what it needs to succeed

Qualcomm's 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 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 would run on the Snapdragon 3100, and we've seen it in a variety of other watches from the likes of Fossil and others, so wouldn't be surprised at all to see this one come true.

Changing up those bands

Pixel Watch investigation: Everything we know, and what it needs to succeed

We can often look to patents to offers us hints as to what companies like Google have planned or are thinking about for future products. Back in April, Patently Apple spotted that the big G won a patent for a new watch band design that aims to make it easier to switch out bands on a smartwatch.

It's a feature Apple, Samsung and other Wear OS smartwatch makers already offer, but Apple's bands are arguably the easiest to switch in and out. While on the face of it, it might not be the most exciting thing to reveal that Google is exploring, it shows that it's thinking about all aspects of the smartwatch experience.

Lights, Camera, Action

Pixel Watch investigation: Everything we know, and what it needs to succeed

A more recent patent, spotted by LetsGoDigital, suggests a much more radical possibility for the Pixel Watch – the inclusion of a camera.

The patent, filed by Google back in 2017, shows a design for a camera mounted behind the glass of the watch's face, able to take photos through the glass. With a single lens, Google's Pixel phones demonstrate that the quality of image captured can still be hugely impressive.

This is on the far-fetched end of the possible inclusions for the Pixel Watch, given the lack of other cameras mounted on smartwatches, but could give an indication that Google's at least thinking about the option.

Three Pixel Watches?

Pixel Watch investigation: Everything we know and what it needs to succeed

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, but that 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

Pixel Watch investigation: Everything we know, and what it needs to succeed

Google paid $40 million to Fossil for some secretive smartwatch technology. Specifically, some of 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 growing 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 placed 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 the natural time for Google to debut a Pixel Watch would be alongside a Pixel phone at its yearly Pixel event in October, although that came and went in 2018 with nary a mention. The most likely date is therefore October this year, at the next I/O event. Until then, we may just have to wait and see.

Do you think Google should make a Pixel Watch? What features do you think it should be packing? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • CDockery·

    It can have all of the aforementioned features, but if it lacks NFC for Google Pay, I'm not buying it. My requirements for a smartwatch include:

    Metal bracelet (or supports interchangeable so I can provide my own).
    Scratch-resistant glass (preferably Sapphire Crystal)
    Strong battery life (16+ hours out in the wild between charges)

    Right now the only Wear OS watches that closely match what I want are the Movado Connect, the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 41/45, and *maybe* the Huawei Watch 2 Classic (but the battery life there is suspect ... ), so it would be nice if Google could provide some leadership in this area and provide a sturdy device that hits those points.

  • Brian78675·

    For me to be interested it would have to be seeing friendly, at least 5atm. I'm stuck with a Nixon mission right now. Great watch except for corroding charge terminals.

    • yogibimbi·

      Yeah, every watch, to be taken seriously, needs at least 5 atm. Apple just put it in their watches without that much fanfare, that is how to handle it. If Apple Watch didn't require me to change me phone setup to iPhones, I would have bought it a long while ago.

      Also stuck with a Nixon, and re on the terminals, although currently it's just one. And Nixon customer service was really good when I had a charging problem with my new Mission way back when I bought it. Of course, such problems should not happen in the first place, but for a pretty new endeavour, good customer service is the next best thing, and they pretty much nailed that.

  • Dnijz·

    Why is the compatibility of WearOS with Iphones always an issue? It is often cited as a con when a smartwatch isn't compatible with an iphone. However, why is it accepted that the Apple Watch only works with iOS and not with anything else? It is not a fair comparison.

    It would be nice if they address this also in their reviews of the Apple Watch.

  • AaronCarmen·

    Whatever Google comes up with, they'll shut it down a couple of years later or "rebrand" it.