technology

Google and Samsung team up to fix Wear OS

 

Wear OS needed a fresh coat of paint … well, always. Every time Google tried to fix Wear OS, it seemed like it only made things worse. Wear OS has been in a weak state for the past few years, but today Google announced a major change. It has collaborated with Samsung on a new wearable platform which combines “the best of Wear OS and Tizen”. It’s still called Wear OS – at least for now.

Google’s rethinking of wearables has three parts. There is of course the new Wear platform. Google has promised that the new platform will have apps that launch 30% faster and last longer on battery life. There was no specific benchmark for battery life, but it looks like Google and Samsung will be better able to utilize low-power cores in a system-on-a-chip.

Google is working on a set of watch-optimized third-party apps to run on the new platform, which is long overdue. For example, Google says Maps will have step-by-step instructions and (finally) support for offline music in YouTube Music. Spotify will add this feature in a future update. Meanwhile, Google Pay will have a complete redesign of the watch to include support for Tap and Pay in 26 countries, up from 11 in the current version. There is also a new Tiles API, and Google claims it will make it easier for developers to deploy Tiles for their apps. Google used the Calm app (see above) as an example of new tiles. There’s also a new quick switch shortcut – just double-tap the hardware button to return to your last app.

Finally, there is the addition of Fitbit’s premium health and fitness service, which Google inherited when it acquired the company last year. Some of Fitbit’s features will appear on the new platform for wearable devices, but their features are very limited at the moment. Fitbit founder James Park cited incentive notifications as an example. Perhaps more interesting is the promise that Fitbit will make premium smartwatches powered by Wear in the future.

Google has been secretive about the technical side of this partnership – it has even shied away from using the updated software name “Wear” whenever possible. However, the Android-based Wear OS will continue to be the core of the new platform. According to Samsungshe brought her expertise in performance optimization and batch processing of sensor data to the project. In the developer’s keynote speech, we heard about how this touch technology will lead to better exercise tracking, a feature that has been sorely lacking in Wear OS. The watch face designer Tizen will also carry over directly to Wear.

Samsung confirms that its next Galaxy Watch will run an updated version of Wear, which means Google services like Maps and the Play Store will be included. Does this mean Bixby will finally boot? We can only hope. One thing you won’t lose is the rotating bezel that will appear on at least some upcoming Galaxy Watch models.

Even if Bixby fades into the background, it’s a big bonus for Samsung wearables that have relied on awful Tizen app ecosystem. Despite all its setbacks, Wear OS maintains a better selection of apps and watch faces thanks to its Play Store integration. For those who use Tizen watches, Samsung promises that it will support these devices for at least three more years. Developers can continue to build apps for Tizen, not that many people have even done so to this day.

And lest you think this is a Google-Samsung exclusive, Google has said that all of its wearable partners will be able to use the new Wear. We should find out more as we get closer to launching the new platform this fall.

 

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