Google’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are the company’s most interesting devices in years. They might actually succeed at the Pixel’s ultimate goal of being the shining example of what Android phones can and should be capable of.
It’s high time that Google followed that example with a Pixel Watch that does the same thing for Wear OS. It’s pretty likely that Google is already working on something along those lines: When we asked, Rick Osterloh told The Verge’s Dieter Bohn that its own Wear OS wearable is just a matter of time. He noted that Google’s acquisition of Fitbit is still “pretty early in the integration” since the purchase only went through a few months ago — it takes time to develop a product, after all, especially one with a new operating system that Fitbit has never used before. But Osterloh did tease that “you’ll see them [the Fitbit team] build wearables on Wear OS in the future,” with the team already “hard at work at that.”
It’s no secret that Wear OS is in desperate need of some flagship hardware (or any hardware, really). If you buy a shiny new Pixel 6 this week and are looking for a smartwatch running the latest and greatest Wear OS 3.0 software, your only option is Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4. Every other Wear OS device is out of date.
Now, the Watch 4 is not a bad smartwatch by any means, but despite the new, shared Tizen / Wear OS collaboration, it’s still a distinctly Samsung device. That means that everything from the basic UI to payments to fitness tracking to the virtual assistant is Samsung-flavored experiences, not Google ones. Google Assistant isn’t even available on Samsung’s watch, and most of the basic apps like the calendar, weather, contacts, and calculator are set to Samsung’s defaults, not Google’s options.
The biggest tell? If you do want to use a Pixel 6 with a Galaxy Watch 4, you’ll have to install a suite of Samsung apps on your phone to use it properly, something that would largely defeat the point of having a Google-made phone in the first place.
For all the years of Pixel phones, Google has never really tried a Pixel Watch to go with it. The closest was back in 2016, when the company was apparently working with LG on smartwatches ahead of the Wear OS 2.0 relaunch. But according to a Business Insider report, Google hardware lead Rick Osterloh himself killed off the project just before the original Pixel was released because they “didn’t look like what belonged in the Pixel family,” leading Google to pull its name from the products. That turned out to be the right call, as those LG wearables were, put simply, terrible (LG itself no longer makes Wear OS watches — or Android phones at all for that matter).
The company has repeatedly squashed suggestions that it might build a Pixel Watch over the years, with Miles Barr, the former director of engineering for Wear OS, commenting in 2018 that Google wasn’t on board yet with the idea of a “one-size-fits-all watch” and that Google’s “focus is on our partners for now.”
But years later, Google’s list of hardware partners is wearing thin. In 2021, Wear OS has mostly been kept alive by dogged efforts from Fossil and Mobvoi’s TicWatch lineup, neither of which screams “cutting edge consumer hardware.” Neither company has plans for a Wear OS 3.0 watch this year, either. If Google wants a great smartwatch for Android users, it needs to take the same approach here as it did with the original Pixel: make a proper, Google-built watch that shows both customers and hardware partners how it’s done.
Both Apple and Samsung’s smartwatch efforts are testaments to the power of how good wearables can be when deep hardware and software integration complete each other. Owning an Apple Watch makes using your iPhone better, giving you additional health tracking metrics and better access to notifications, glanceable information, and things like music control on your wrist. But it’s not for nothing that the two best smartwatches around — the Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watch — are devices that are really only suited for owners of their respective smartphones.
A Pixel Watch could do the same thing for Google that the Apple Watch and Galaxy Watch do for Apple and Samsung: serve as a must-have accessory that helps drive Pixel owners to expand into the Google ecosystem with more health and fitness services.
The Pixel 6’s biggest innovation isn’t a specific AI feature or camera upgrade. It’s the ethos behind it that Google was willing to pause, take a look at what it considered was important to have in a truly great Android phone, and then build a bespoke device that specifically did those things. With Google effectively relaunching Wear OS for the third time with Wear OS 3.0, the time is more than ripe for Google to do the same for the wrist, building a bespoke Pixel Watch that could fill a similar role.
Google has the tools to do it, too. Wear OS is in better shape than it has been in years, thanks to the Samsung partnership and an influx of new users on the platform (Samsung is one of the biggest players in the smartwatch world outside of Apple). Qualcomm has relatively new Snapdragon 4100 chips ready for hardware partners, assuming Google doesn’t simply make its own in-house Tensor-style chip for smartwatches, too.
And of course, back in January, Google itself spent $2.1 billion to buy Fitbit, which has been leading the field of fitness-focused wearables for years now, in addition to its mysterious $40 million purchase of Fossil’s smartwatch technology and R&D division in 2019. It just needs to combine all the pieces together into the kind of smartwatch that can compete — or even lead in — the wearable space.
Which means that it might just be a matter of time before the Pixel 6 (or perhaps a future Pixel 7) gets the Pixel Watch that Android fans have been waiting for — although it’s possible in a twist of irony that, when it does arrive, Android’s Wear OS savior might bear a Fitbit logo, not a Google one.