Xiaomi's Apple Watch copycat points to a brighter future for Google's Wear OS

Stock Wear OS is dead, long live the custom skins
Wareable is reader-powered. If you click through using links on the site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

I wasn't surprised one little bit that Xiaomi's new smartwatch is essentially an Apple Watch knock off. If we know anything about the Chinese tech outfit, it's that its design inspiration meetings don't stray too far from simply loading up the Apple Store and saying, "Let's do this stuff, but cheaper."

What was surprising - and seems to have just been a footnote for everyone else when covering the Xiaomi Mi Watch - is that it's the first Wear OS smartwatch to come with a custom skin... the uninspiringly-named MIUI.

Google launched Android Wear over five years ago and, over 75 watches (from 23 different brands) later, we finally have someone offering up something other than the stock operating system that Mountain View lets manufacturers get their hands on.

Revealed: Xiaomi Mi Watch global edition

In the glory days of Android Wear, where Google's OS was the undisputed smartwatch king (i.e. the few months from when the first watches - an absolutely forgettable pair from LG and Samsung - went on sale, and the Apple Watch was announced) there was much excitement about the possibilities for the platform.

Finally there was a version of Android designed entirely with smartwatches in mind. It was going to be glorious. Except, it never was.

There had been some absolute dirge in the smartwatch market in the years before 2014, with a load of crappy devices running forks of Android, a system designed to run on smartphones.

The experience did not translate well to the wrist, and it took years for the smartwatch market to recover from a 'crap-phone-on-your-wrist' reputation.

Finally, there was a version of Android designed entirely with smartwatches in mind. It was going to be glorious.

Except, it never was. Wear OS is a far cry from the clunky days of those early Android Wear builds, but it's still the same flavor of Google's idea of a smartwatch UI, no matter what brand you buy.

Sure, the likes of Tag Heuer Connect Modular 45, Suunto 7, Fossil Sport and Skagen Falster 3 have done a great job customizing watch faces, complications and brand-specific apps but – look behind those, and it's very much the same story.

In those early days of Wear, it was clear that some brands thought Google would be opening up its wearable platform to whoever wanted it, with a license to do whatever they wanted with it, as it kind of does with Android.

The Com1 was a 2014 crowdfunding success story after promising all the fun of the Android Wear fair, but at half the price the likes of LG and Samsung were asking.

if Xiaomi has managed to salvage a decent UI out of Wear OS, then surely others will follow.

However, it never came to be... Google had its list of hardware partners and Android Wear, unlike its smartphone big brother, was very much a closed shop. Even approved partners couldn't do custom skins or modify the UI.

So, Xiaomi's MIUI on the new Mi watch is a great big deal. It's an admission from Google that its smartwatch OS isn't perfect. It's a dying platform, if we're honest - the numbers are horrible.

Xiaomi's smartwatch is only set for a launch in its homeland for now, so it's perhaps more understandable that Google would let it tinker around; especially given the ongoing OS war between the US and China.

But, and it's a big but, if Xiaomi has managed to salvage a decent UI / skin out of Wear OS, then surely others will follow.

It could just well be the shot in the arm that the platform needs. And the timing, with the big ol' Fitbit deal just announced, couldn't be better.

TAGGED Smartwatches

How we test

Paul Lamkin


Wareable Media Group co-CEO Paul launched Wareable with James Stables in 2014, after working for a variety of the UK's biggest and best consumer tech publications including Pocket-lint, Forbes, Electric Pig, Tech Digest, What Laptop, T3 and has been a judge for the TechRadar Awards. 

Prior to founding Wareable, and subsequently The Ambient, he was the senior editor of MSN Tech and has written for a range of publications.

Related stories