Tech

OnePlus Watch gives Google's dying smartwatch OS the finger

OnePlus is launching the OnePlus Watch on March 23 and the smartwatch is not going to run Wear OS. At this point, Google’s smartwatch OS is as good as dead.

When OnePlus CEO Pete Lau teased the OnePlus Watch last fall during a roundtable, he gave some people hope that the smartwatch would run Wear OS, Google’s left-for-dead smartwatch platform.

“Wear OS definitely has room to improve,” Lau said. “What we're trying to do is work with Google to try to improve the connectivity between the Wear OS ecosystem, Android TV, and Android smartphones to create this ability for better device interoperability across the ecosystems. This has been something looked at very positively from Google's side as well, so this is the direction that we're trying to develop, but we don't have more than we can share on that right now.”

While he didn’t explicitly say which OS the OnePlus Watch would use, the bit on working with Google to improve connectivity gave Android users a sliver of hope that maybe OnePlus could help revive the platform that Google has all but abandoned.

That small flame was extinguished this week when Lau confirmed the OnePlus Watch would run a “smart wear operating system developed based on RTOS” (real-time operating system). With Samsung using Tizen for its Galaxy Watches and now OnePlus using RTOS, Google’s smartwatch platform is looking more dead than it already was.

Vote of no confidence — Wear OS is a dead platform for a number of reasons, but two contribute the most: Google stopped putting resources into developing it (when was the last time Wear OS got any serious stage time at Google I/O?) and Qualcomm’s wearable chipsets fell behind. Contrast that with Apple’s commitment to watchOS and custom chipset improvement every WWDC and fall launch event.

OnePlus’ reason for not using Wear OS for the OnePlus Watch is similar to Samsung’s. “We chose to go with a smart wear operating system developed based on RTOS because we believe it provides you a smooth and reliable experience while offering a great battery life, covering some of the biggest concerns we've been hearing from people looking to buy a smartwatch,” Lau said in response to a user query on the company’s forums.

At this point, Wear OS is on death row waiting to be put out of its misery.

At this point, Wear OS is on death row waiting to be put out of its misery. Tech giants have abandoned it and six years after its grand debut, the only thing still propping it up is fashion brands. In 2017, I wrote that “fashion brands are saving Android Wear smartwatches” and suggested Fossil Group made up of brands like Fossil, Michael Kors, and Diesel and other fashion labels like Tommy Hilfiger would be able to keep Wear OS on life support until Google and Qualcomm could come to the rescue with new software and updated wearable chipsets.

The rescue never arrived. Meanwhile, Apple has only increased its lead with the Apple Watch, accounting for 40 percent of global smartwatch shipments in Q4 2020 according to Counterpoint research data. I’m not saying Wear OS is unsalvageable — Fitbit joining the Google family could inject new life into the smartwatch platform — but I’m not holding my breath that Google will catch up to Apple.

The OnePlus Watch — Originally expected to be announced on March 23 alongside the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, there’s little OnePlus hasn’t already shared about the smartwatch or that hasn’t leaked.

UnboxTherapy shared an exclusive look at the OnePlus Watch today:

It looks like a Samsung Galaxy Active 2 with an Apple Watch sport band. Leaker Ishan Agarwal has also shared a bunch of specs of the OnePlus Watch:

  • 46mm case
  • IP68 water and dust resistance
  • Auto workout detection
  • Sleep, stress, blood saturation, heart rate monitoring
  • One week of battery life with Warp Charge (20 minutes)
  • 4GB of storage
  • Controls for OnePlus TV
  • Black and silver colorways
Leaked images of watch faces for the OnePlus Watch.XDA Developers

What about apps? — Good smartwatch hardware is not a problem. Given OnePlus’ track record building devices and at scale (thanks to shared supply chains with Oppo and the BBK Electronics family), I’d be surprised if the hardware was not good. But a smartwatch’s lifeblood is its software. Apple learned the hard way after initially stumbling out of the door with Apple Watch; it realized that core apps that center around fitness are vital but third-party app support is necessary for long-term stability.

WatchOS is still finding its footing when it comes to attracting and keeping third-party apps, which only makes me less confident the OnePlus Watch will have strong enough app support given its much smaller user base compared to Apple or Samsung. Will Spotify make an app for the OnePlus Watch? Will your favorite podcast app support it? I’m going to be paying close attention to the software when OnePlus makes the Watch official next week.

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