Earlier this fall, Google finally launched the Pixel Watch. It wasn’t a perfect smartwatch, but it was a respectable first attempt in a category that Google notoriously neglected for years.
Even so, it’s hard to shake off the idea that Google might prematurely abandon its revived wearable ambitions if it doesn’t do “well enough.” This is why the company has been quietly chugging away at Wear OS improvements in the background. The latest is a round of “holiday” Android updates that bring new Tiles, an improved Google Keep app, and Google Assistant integration for Adidas Running.
For Tiles — Google’s moniker for smartwatch widgets — Wear OS 3 users will be able to view their favorite contacts as well as sunrise and sunset times. The latter is often included on smartwatches, partly so athletes can plan their outdoorsy excursions.
Meanwhile, Google Keep will be updated later this month to look more appealing on the wrist (and that shiny new Pixel Watch display). That includes the ability to view labels and collaborators, custom backgrounds, photos, and drawings. Lastly, it’s rolling out an Adidas Running app integration with Google Assistant over the next week so that you can use the digital assistant to start tracking a workout. That is, provided you have a Wear OS 3 watch with Google Assistant installed, an internet connection, and a compatible Android phone with the app installed.
While the holiday connection is tenuous, the more important thing is that Google continues to chug along with Wear OS updates, both minor and major. Google may have been first to the smartwatch scene with Android Wear in 2014, but the platform stagnated until it bought Fitbit and partnered with Samsung to create Wear OS 3. Since then, the transition has been a bit messy, with features sometimes arriving months later than promised. See: the year it took Google Assistant to arrive on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4. It’s natural to look at the transition’s missteps, but it speaks volumes that Google’s continuing to make small improvements. Previously, it wasn’t uncommon to go months or even years without significant or minor Wear OS updates.
Google continuing to make small improvements speaks volumes
Right before the Pixel Watch launched, Google SVP of hardware Rick Osterloh told The Verge in an interview that the company was committing to wearables for the long haul. Given Google’s history, that’s hard to take at face value. Splashy launches are easy, and you need only look at Google’s graveyard to see that.
But big moves aren’t what turn big dreams — like ambient computing — into reality. Ask any marathoner: it’s the small continuous efforts that matter most. These holiday updates might not be the coolest things ever, but that might be a good sign. If Google cares enough about small “insignificant’” updates, maybe its vision of wearable ambient computing isn’t so far-fetched after all.