Tech

Google remembers Wear OS exists, announces update with handwashing timer

There's just one big catch.

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We were just thinking about Google’s left-for-dead Wear OS smartwatch platform yesterday and coincidentally the company has announced a major update coming this fall.

The next over-the-air update will focus on performance with startup time for apps loading up to 20 percent faster, according to Google's Android Developers Blog. That’s good because it’s maddening to literally watch the time tick away when you try to open Wear OS apps.

The most useful new feature may be a handwashing timer. Google says the timer is “in response to COVID-19.” The timer lets users set a countdown to help them wash their hands for a preset time. It’s a knockoff of the handwashing feature Apple announced for watchOS 7 coming to Apple Watch this fall with one big difference: it’s not hands-free.

Google

Whereas the handwashing feature on Apple Watch automatically turns on when you wash your hands — the smartwatch actually listens for the unique sound signature of scrubbing hands and then turns on the timer — Wear OS’s feature is not automatic. Google confirmed to Input users the feature is a "dedicated tile you tap to trigger."

I don’t know about you, but if I’m washing my hands for 20 seconds because I’m worried it may have the virus on it, it’s counterintuitive to touch my smartwatch’s screen and potentially contaminate it before cleaning my hands.

All isn't lost: you can still use a voice command to call up the Assistant to "help you wash your hands."

Support for new chips — Everyone and their parents know that Wear OS has languished over the past few years. Software updates have been few and far between and Google didn’t even give it stage time during past I/O Developer conferences (RIP).

Google’s seeming disinterest in Wear OS is also Qualcomm’s fault. The smartwatch chips that power many Wear OS smartwatches simply haven’t gotten more powerful or faster. Not enough to justify adopting them and increasing prices for brands like Fossil at least.

But good news: this new software update will support the new Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 4100+ chips and faster LTE.

Updated weather app — The weather app is getting a visual overhaul, too, with an hourly breakdown of the day’s forecast.

New weather UI, who dis?Google

Where’s the Pixel Watch? — If you’ve got a Wear OS smartwatch, this update is something to look forward to. It’ll give some owners a reason to dust their wearables off. But the real question is: where’s the Pixel Watch?

We’re all still waiting to see Google integrate its $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit into a smartwatch that would presumably give the Apple Watch real competition. Besides rebooting the Pixel, Google needs to reset its smartwatch platform. A good way to lead would be with a Pixel-branded smartwatch. It’d strengthen the Pixel brand — really beat the drum on an ecosystem — and revive interest in Android smartwatches.

Right now, Samsung is the only one with alternatives to the Apple Watch that are worth buying. It’s not winning by innovation — the Galaxy Watch 3 is kind of a snooze — but by default. Android users deserve more choice. Something better that's less fashion and focuses on fitness just like the Apple Watch.