Google is expected to launch the Pixel Watch later this fall. Given the history of Wear OS, there is understandably a lot of anticipation. Will the watch be good? Won’t it live up to Wear OS 3’s promise? Frankly, those questions may be more appropriate for future iterations of the watch. For now, Google just needs to make a smartwatch that gets the basics right.
Example, XDA Developers recently reported that Google appears to be hard at work addressing a glaring flaw in Wear OS: backups. In an APK teardown of Google Play Services v 22.23.12 beta, XDA says there is code pointing to “accompanying backups” via Google One. If you are currently upgrading to a new phone, you will not be able to back up your non-Samsung Wear OS smartwatch data. Yes, although it’s 2022 and you can do cloud backups with almost any consumer gadget, you still need to factory reset your Wear OS smartwatch. (Technically, there is a workaround for this inconvenience – but you shouldn’t need a solution for something as simple as a cloud backup. )
This just underlines how low the bar is for the Pixel Watch. Competitors like Samsung and Apple already have cloud backup for their watches, because again, it’s 2022. As long as the Pixel Watch can last 24 hours on a single charge, have a snappy chip, and go through the list of expected smartwatch features ( e.g. contactless payments, music streaming, basic fitness tracking, backups, etc.), it will succeed at Not Sucking, which is all Google needs to establish that its wearables can play ball. Everything else on top of that is gravy.
And there’s reason to believe that Google can succeed in making a smartwatch that rises above the “no suck” bar. Since announcing Wear OS 3 with Samsung at I/O 2021, Google has made demonstrable progress towards making Wear OS a viable platform. Not only have more popular third-party developers created optimized Wear OS 3 apps, but Google has also made an effort to bring app improvements to Wear OS 2. That includes software like Google Pay and Messages, streaming through YouTube Music, and other basic elements you’d expect to find on modern smartwatches. That momentum only seems to pick up as we get closer to the Pixel Watch’s debut. For example, 9to5Google found signs that the Pixel Watch may also support Google Fi, which could indicate the watch power support LTE data without needing a phone number. (Or Google can go the same route as other carriers and charge a small fee for an extra line.)
Google Fi support would go beyond the bare minimum of “just don’t suck”. But also, according to the I/O 2022 presentation, we can expect a streamlined Wear OS 3 UI, a new Fitbit integration and emergency calls. We can expect apps like Google Assistant, YouTube Music, Google Wallet, Google Home and Google Maps – which is a solid lineup in terms of native apps. At least on paper, this is what I would expect to see in a modern smartwatch.
I’m not ready to say that the Pixel Watch will be good or even “good enough”. I can’t decide until I’ve tried it. There are things you just can’t tell from a spec sheet, like how well it integrates with non-Pixel phones, how snappy the performance is, and what the real battery looks like. I’m just saying that the bar for a good Wear OS watch is amazingly low, and so far Samsung has been the only game in town. I’d be genuinely surprised if the Pixel Watch gave the Galaxy Watch 5 a run for its money. But if it can successfully provide Android users with a viable alternative to a Samsung watch? That’s something we haven’t seen yet.