A new tweet from the official Wear OS Twitter account is teasing an update tomorrow at I/O 2021 to Google’s frequently forgotten smartwatch operating system. Google has even suggested that the developer conference will feature an entirely new version of Wear OS on the I/O Adventure page, the “virtual sandbox” for trying the products Google will announce at the conference, 9to5Google writes.
Wear OS has been on a long and bumpy journey up until this point — with new features, but not the dramatic rethinking of the platform that it may need. In the last year, Google has added a new keyboard, support for third-party Tiles (Wear OS’s answer to glanceable widget-like information), and improvements to performance. But the last major design change to Wear OS — other than the addition of Tiles — came in 2018. If anything, Google’s tease is a welcome sign of life.
Both Google’s acquisition of Fossil’s smartwatch tech in 2019 and its plans to acquire Fitbit in 2020, reignited the hope that it would also acquire a renewed interest in wearables as a concept. The process of absorbing Fitbit in particular was drawn out for the health data privacy concerns that came with it, but the deal was ultimately approved in 2021.
In the meantime, Google’s other wearable partners kept the platform on life support. Fossil’s watches — like the 2019 Gen 5 and 2021 Gen 5 LTE — were frequently limited by the subpar performance of Qualcomm’s smartwatch processors. Mobvoi took a different approach with its 2021 TicWatch Pro 3, by skinning Wear OS, layering in an extra display, and filling the watch with a suite of custom apps, but still ran into some inherently Wear OS-type issues.
But back to the hope on the horizon: Google is teasing a new Wear OS version, and there are rumors of some hardware to back that up — Samsung is reportedly dropping its Tizen OS in exchange for using Google’s software on its next smartwatches. With a big powerful new partner, a wearable team of its own, and the possibility of Android 12’s rumored new visual design coming to Wear OS, it suddenly seems like Google might have a plan for your wrist. We’ll have to watch this week to see how promising that plan actually is.