Up until maybe a month or so ago, we thought Google was going to announce its first 'Pixel Watch'. But then a Wear OS exec spoke up and said something to the tune of, "Nah, it's not happening this year".
So as I sat watching Google's 9 October event to hear about new Pixel phones, the Google Home Hub (which you can read all about over on our sister site The Ambient) and a new tablet, there was unfortunately no love given to smartwatches. At all. Not even a new pair of Pixel Buds to play around with.
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I can definitely deal with the Pixel Watch no-show, as long as when Google is ready to show one off (and I still think they should), it has some big things to talk about. Over the past few months, Google's Wear OS team has focused on improving the software experience, and rightfully so. Its two rivals have slick alternatives, after all ‚Äď Apple's watchOS is refined, and I still have a lot of time for what Samsung has done with Tizen, even if we do hammer it about the app support. Fitbit's platform is evolving and I think Garmin should get a mention for the work it's doing offering more smartwatch-like features on its wearables.
Google needed to get its OS house in order, and that started with revamping Google Fit. The Fit retouch was a welcome one and brings Google into line with what its competitors are doing for health and fitness tracking. Then came the UI changes and a new assistant; clearly influenced by a feature Google decided to ditch from Wear. I'm talking about those Google Now cards, of course. From a software point of view, things are going in the right direction and I echo a lot of what our man in the US Hugh had to say about Wear in its latest form. Using Wear OS is now a more pleasing experience.
At Google's event, there was a whole lot of talk about machine learning and its tech doing a better job of knowing the person who owns it and understanding their habits. I have no doubt that this kind of thinking extends to the company's approach to building smartwatches, and a Google Watch or Pixel Watch that can harness that kind of machine learning know-how is a compelling prospect. Filling you in on the day as soon as you wake up or a watch face that can pull in your most recent photos, a bit like the new Pixel phones and Home Hub, would work really nicely on a watch. Even a smarter assistant that feels better optimised for smaller screens. These are all the kind of things that I'd love to see filter into Wear OS-running smartwatches and an in-house built smartwatch.
The technical and hardware challenges involved in moving what probably works effortlessly on a smart speaker or tablet are clear. It's not easy. There's less room for components to provide the power really needed to deliver those features mentioned above. There's also less room for the kind of battery capacity that wouldn't have you charging it every night or ballooning the size of the watch.
All of these reasons and more would have no doubt contributed to Google's decision to hold back on launching its own smartwatch, as the rumours and speculation appeared to point to. It feels like the right decision right now to not launch its own smartwatch, with its partners like the Fossil Group and others seemingly doing a good job getting the OS on the wrists of more people. Qualcomm has recently announced its new chipset, which might not be groundbreaking in terms of what it will do for Wear watches, but it will make them better.
So there's more time to wait for the innovations that can address some of the long-standing challenges faced with building smartwatches, all while giving Google's smartwatch OS more time to evolve. We're still waiting to be truly blown away by Wear. Hopefully this time next year we will be ‚Äď with a new Google-built watch on our wrists.