Wear OS 3 technically hasn’t finished rolling out yet, but Google’s not waiting to announce Wear OS 4. The new OS is meant to improve battery life and introduce cloud backups to the platform.
It makes sense that Wear OS is getting some love now that the Pixel Watch is here. The jump to Wear OS 4, however, is a bit surprising. Sure, it’s been two years since Google announced the oft-neglected Wear OS platform was getting a total revamp via a partnership with Samsung. But the transition has been rocky, and Wear OS 3 really didn’t start taking off until the latter half of 2022.
The good news is there’s still time for Wear OS to get its ducks in a row. While the Wear OS 4 developer preview and emulator launch today, it won’t be available for consumers until “later this year.” As mentioned, Wear OS 4 will extend battery life and, finally, give Android users the ability to back up and restore their watches without needing to factory reset. (Yes, it is 2023, but this is not yet possible for Wear OS watches.) The next-gen OS will also bring new and improved accessibility features like text-to-speech.
Better battery and backups would go a long way toward fixing two of Wear OS 3’s biggest issues. In our testing, the Pixel Watch’s battery barely lasted a whole day. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 and 5 have also been middling, though battery life has admittedly improved since launch. Still, it’s a stretch to say that any Wear OS 3 watch can manage multiday battery life at this point. Meanwhile, the lack of cloud backups has been a problem for years.
Samsung and Google have also partnered to create Watch Face Format, which makes it easier for devs to create watchfaces for the platform. The major plus seems to be that watchfaces built this way will be more power-efficient for Wear OS 4.
On the app front, Google is continuing its efforts to bolster the Play Store and add more Google services to the wrist. For starters, Wear OS will get support for both Gmail and Google Calendar. For Gmail, that means being able to respond to emails from the wrist. With Calendar, users will be able to check their schedules, view and RSVP to events, and update task statuses.
Wear OS is also getting improved smart home integration within the Home app. That includes improved device controls, such as adjusting lighting and controlling media as well as animated previews of camera notifications. Users will also be able to access favorites in the mobile app directly from the wrist.
In terms of third-party apps, the big news is that WhatsApp is launching its first ever smartwatch app in the “coming weeks.” (And yes, that includes answering WhatsApp calls.) Spotify is also set to release three new Tiles, or widgets, focused on podcasts, your heavy rotation, and Spotify DJ. Peloton, which released a Wear OS app last year, will also be adding a workout streak tile.
It makes sense that Google wants to continue its wearable momentum. 2022 was a watershed year for Wear OS 3. Not only did Google finally release the Pixel Watch, but Samsung also came out with its Galaxy Watch 5 lineup, Montblanc released the Summit 3, and Fossil began rolling out upgrades to its Wear OS 2 watches. Qualcomm also announced a new, more powerful chipset with the Snapdragon W5 Plus platform.
That said, there are still a lot of questions that need answering in the coming months. But perhaps the most pressing question is whether Google will handle this transition more smoothly than the switch to Wear OS 3.
The most pressing question is whether Google will handle this transition more smoothly than the switch to Wear OS 3
For starters, it’s unclear what hardware will be capable of running or upgrading to Wear OS 4. Back when Google and Samsung announced the shift to Wear OS 3, only watches with Samsung’s proprietary chipset or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform were eligible to upgrade. Meanwhile, Mobvoi users are still waiting to find out when the new TicWatch running the W5 Plus and Wear OS 3 will arrive — along with Wear OS 3 upgrades for previous TicWatches. Complicating matters, third-party makers like Fossil and Montblanc are waiting on Google Assistant compatibility for their Wear OS 3 watches as well.
It’s likely we’ll get further details in the coming weeks and months. For now, here’s to hoping Wear OS 4 helps the platform become less fragmented, not more.