For years, Wear OS has been, at best, something of a dark horse among Google operating systems. It’s certainly not for lack of partnership or investment, but for whatever reason, the company has never really stuck the landing with its wearable operating system.
It’s a category in which Apple has been utterly dominant for some time. Google has largely failed to chip away at that market, in spite of enlisting some of the biggest names in consumer electronics as partners. Figures from Strategy Analytics classify Wear OS among the “others” category.
Google’s strategy is, once again, the result of partnerships – or, more precisely, partnerships combined with acquisitions. At the top of the list is an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join em’” approach to Samsung’s longstanding preference for open-source Tizen. It seemed like one of the stranger plays in the category, but building out its own version of Tizen has proven a winning strategy for the company, which trails only Apple in the category.
We’re making the biggest update ever to @wearosbygoogle, including new capabilities for Google apps — like turn-by-turn navigation in Google Maps, or downloading songs from YouTube Music for offline listening… even if you leave your phone behind. #GoogleIO pic.twitter.com/vOnxnWl0MA
— Google (@Google) May 18, 2021
During today’s I/O keynote, the company company revealed a new partnership with Samsung, “combining the best of Wear OS and Tizen.” We’re still waiting to see how that will play out, but it will be fascinating watching two big players combine forces to take on Apple. You come at the king, you best not miss, to quote a popular prestige television program. On the developer side, this seems to allude to the ability to create joint apps for both platforms, as third-party app selection has been a sticking point for both.
The other big change sheds some more light on precisely why the company was interested in Fitbit. Sure the company was a wearables leader that dominated fitness bands and eventually created its own solid smartwatches (courtesy of, among other things, its own acquisition of Pebble), but health is really the key here.
Health monitoring has become the dominant conversation around wearables in recent years, and Google’s acquisition seems to be, above all, about integrating that information. “[A] world-class health and fitness service from Fitbit is coming to the platform,” the company noted. Beyond adding Fitbit’s well-loved tracking features, the company will also be integrated Wear features into Google’s hardware, working to blur the line between the two companies.
With a long-standing history of working together on the mobile side, it’s always been a bit of a surprise that Samsung hasn’t had much patience for Google’s wearables play. The hardware giant had flirted with Android Wear in the past, but for the last several years, it’s been invested in building out its own version of open-source operating system, Tizen.
Today, both companies announced a partnership featuring a “unified platform” between the two some-time competitors. The goal of the deal is to essentially create a way for devs to build apps for both Wear OS and Tizen at once. The deal makes sense from that perspective. Third-party apps have been something of a sticking point for both companies.
Even more to the point, it’s an opportunity for two smaller players in the space to join forces and take on Apple, which has been utterly dominant in the smartwatch category, more or less since the first Apple Watch arrived.
We’re combining the best of @wearosbygoogle and @SamsungMobile Tizen into a unified wearable platform. Apps will start faster, battery life will be longer and you'll have more choice than ever before, from devices to apps and watch faces. #GoogleIO pic.twitter.com/vj2aYZD81x
— Google (@Google) May 18, 2021
Wear OS has already gone through a number of cycles, including a big rebrand from Android OS a while back, but nothing has really stuck over the years, leaving the wearable operating as something of an also-ran. For now, at least, this is far from a full-throated embrace of Wear OS on Samsung’s part and appears to be something more akin to an “the enemy of my enemy” situation. Along with developing a unified API, the companies are joining forces to pluck the best from each operating system, including longer battery life — perhaps the largest hurdle facing smartwatches at the moment.
“We know that health and wellness are at the forefront of consumers’ minds, and we’re excited to continue building the industry-leading health experience on our new unified platform with Google,” Samsung said in a blog post. “As our consumers turn to wearable technology to monitor their wellbeing, we’re meeting these needs head on. By creating world-class health technology, we hope to elevate how users approach to their wellbeing, and enable them to make positive changes in their everyday lives.”
Samsung added that the next version of the Galaxy Watch will be the first to leverage this partnership, but offered little additional information on the hardware front. I’d anticipate big news on the Wear OS front in the next year. If nothing else, the company’s partnership with Google is a sign that it’s ready to go for broke with the platform.