At IFA this year we traversed the halls in search of Wear OS news and devices. Many people, myself included, have been critical of Google’s stewardship of the platform with a slow development cycle, the painfully slowness of hardware rollouts eg NFC payments, digital crown adoption and 3 button control schema being included in devices and the lack of first party hardware from Google.
However, I left IFA a little more hopeful about the potential future of Wear OS, even if that hardware future isn’t in Google’s hands. Unfortunately, some of what I have seen and heard was off the record, but I’d ask you to extend a little faith that things might be looking up.
Just before IFA Google announced the next major update for Wear OS. The Wear OS update extends the swipe based gesture control and embraces fitness, payments and notifications as the core of the Wear OS experience. From the information released, the next Wear update does look like it will be a big improvement with the majority if the information you want just one swipe away.
I spent a little time with the next version of Wear OS at IFA, and I can tell you I keep spamming my update button on my Ticwatch Pro in the hope I’m getting it, it is that much of an improvement. To be honest I never liked the Wear OS 2.0 upgrade and I’m glad to be getting rid of it. Swiping left and right to change your watch face was not only redundant it’s not something that you actually do so frequently it needs 1, let alone 2 shortcuts from the main watch face!
Speaking to multiple vendors across the show floor, they all confirmed Google’s news that all watches that received the Wear OS 2.0 update would receive this latest update. That’s good news, if Wear OS can avoid the distribution fragmentation that Phones and Tablets have experiences then it should be easier for developers and Google to iterate and innovate on the platform.
Speaking to the vendors they are truly embracing the smartwatch as distinct, if intertwined to the phone, devices in its own right. If we stop viewing the Smartwatch as an accessory for our phones and view it as a new gateway to information/connectivity and interaction then opportunities for utility can only go up.
While fitness, payments and notification management/curation are very useful (as is telling the time) could there be more utility in smartwatches if we stop seeing them as just a little extension of the phone in our pockets?
Hardware wise we saw a few announcements around IFA from the Fossil group with products from Diesel and Skagen launching at or just before the event and Casio took the wraps of their new CASIO WSD-F30. There were also lots of other non Wear OS smart watches at the show, so the category certainly isn’t going anywhere, and if you compare Smartwatches to Tablets, at least for choice, I think smartwatches would be winning.
Now that Qualcomm has launched the Snapdragon Wear 3100 SoC the next generation of higher performing and battery efficient smartwatches are hopefully on the horizon. With Google having confirmed they won’t be releasing a first party Wear OS device it will be interesting to see if the only vendors releasing Wear OS devices will be traditional watch makers and sporting companies.
In the Australian market I’d say the two big players are Fossil group (and all the various brands they retail) and Mobvoi with their TicWatch range. Speaking with Mobvoi I was left with the impression that they are aware of the importance of the Australian market.
Fossil’s approach is very much a fashion approach. They have worked with technology partners to create a base Wear OS ‘platform’ that can then be deployed in many size and finishes across their sub-brands. I got the impression they were willing to provide that base platform to other brands to utilise. Across Fossils entire 2.5 range, as they were calling it, you will now get full round screens, NFC for payments, basic fitness tracking and a heart rate monitor. Going forward that looks like it will be Fossil’s minimum spec.
Mobvoi’s approach is a little bit different. They aren’t looking to develop a platform, nor are they trying to develop 15 watches. The company seems to know that the majority of their market are technology focused. People who want the latest tech, they want it to work but it shouldn’t break the bank in the process.
While Mobvoi made no specific hardware announcements at IFA the team gives the impression that they’re not abandoning the Wear OS market, far from it. Their thoughts and discussions were all very future orientated, you don’t plan for the future if you don’t plan to be in that space. Speaking with Mobvoi was like chatting with any of you, they’re tech oriented and they’ll do what they need to do to keep that focus.
Overall I think that the next year of Wear OS if not beyond is very bright. With a solid OS and UI update in the works, a new SoC on the horizon and many more hardware devices already past the prototype phase Wear OS’s future is so bright I think I might need shades. We already know that we can expect several new Wear OS devices before Christmas 2018, I know what I’ll be asking Santa for this year.