What I'd like to see in Wear OS as we head towards Google IO

It’s been almost a year since Google announced Wear OS 3 at Google IO 2021. And in that time, the new platform has made its way to the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, with other eligible devices expected to “roll out the update starting in mid to second half of 2022”.  

Wear OS 3 on the Galaxy Watch 4 marked a big step forward for Google’s Wear OS. But even though the Galaxy Watch 4 has received plenty of plaudits, there are still plenty of opportunities for Google to improve upon what it's already done. 

With rumors swirling of a possible Google Pixel watch in the pipeline, Wear OS will be its foundation, which means we may see both appear at Google IO 2022 in May. And if Google wants to be a serious challenger in the smartwatch space, there are a few things we think it should do to make Wear OS as good as possible. 

Google Assistant

One of the most obvious omissions from the Galaxy Watch 4 is Google Assistant. It’s likely that Samsung made the decision to stick with its own virtual assistant, Bixby. Although a post from Verizon (spotted by 9to5Google) about an upcoming system update suggested that Google Assistant support is on its way to that watch, this has been contradicted by Google.

We’d fully expect Google Assistant to make its way onto Wear OS 3 at some stage though, especially on devices that don’t have a Bixby equivalent available. But we really want to see this arriving sooner rather than later.

Just as importantly, we hope to see Google Assistant utilizing the same on-device processing that's offered on Pixel phones. While this does rely to an extent on the hardware that’s supporting it, on-device processing means that Google Assistant is faster, and doesn’t necessarily need an internet connection at all times to complete tasks. This, in turn, could make it less power-hungry.

Improved Battery

Battery life remains one of the single biggest concerns that smartwatch users have to contend with. An Apple Watch Series 7, for example, offers “up to” 18 hours of battery between charges. If you're lucky, on some devices you may be able to go more than a day between charges. But it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to manage more than two days, especially if you want to use your watch to its full potential.

This is why we really want to see Wear OS being as efficient as possible and extending that battery life. Optimized software can go a long way to extending the battery on a smartwatch. And getting over the two-day mark between charges, as a minimum, would be a big boost.

Better iPhone Compatibility

It’s important to acknowledge that Google has made strides in this area. It used to be that iPhone users couldn’t even dream of using a non-Apple watch with their iPhone. But since 2018, when Android Wear became Wear OS, the experience has been significantly improved.

While it's much, much better than it used to be, it's still far from perfect. A quick glance at the app store shows a rating of 1.9 out of 5 for the Wear OS app. Commonly cited issues include the app just not working, or disconnecting and then refusing to reconnect. There are also complaints of  Wear OS watch batteries draining faster than they should when paired with an iPhone.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find friction when a Google device is trying to interact with an Apple device. But given that these are now fundamentally mature technologies, we should be seeing better than this. 

The days of manufacturers trapping people in their ecosystem should be over. And consumers should be able to wear whatever smartwatch they want, without instantly facing issues using it.

We’re hoping that Wear OS 3 will make big strides in this area.

Fitbit Integration

One area where Apple has been way out in front of almost everyone has been in fitness tracking. But given that Google completed the acquisition of Fitbit over a year ago, we’d hope that it's found a way to fully integrate all that expertise into Wear OS.

Just consider all the things that WatchOS can support: Sleep, heart rate, ECG, handwashing, cardio fitness, and fall detection. The Galaxy Watch can support blood pressure monitoring. The Fitbit Charge 5 can scan for Electrodermal activity to monitor stress levels, skin temperature, breathing rate, and blood oxygen levels. It’s even possible to track your menstrual cycle.

The point is, there's a wealth of health monitoring features that Wear OS needs to offer if it wants to be seen as a viable competitor to what’s already out there. And if a (Google-owned) Fitbit can offer these features, surely there’s no reason for them to be neglected on Wear OS?

Easier Backup and Restore Functionality

One of the single biggest criticisms of Wear OS has been how clunky it is if you want to set up your watch on a new device. It isn’t always the case that a user has perfectly synchronized changing their handset at the same time as they get a new wearable. One often lasts longer than the other. And, as we know, accidents happen.

Usually, if you want to pair your Wear OS watch with a new device, you need to factory reset it. This means you’ll need to spend time adjusting all your settings, customizing your apps, and choosing your watch faces. This is slow, laborious, and far more work than it needs to be.

The Verizon post we referenced earlier shows how this issue will be addressed on the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. Using Samsung Smart Switch, watch owners will be able to back up and restore their watch settings before pairing it with a new phone.

But this needs to be a feature of Wear OS, regardless of the watch you're wearing or the phone you're using. 

Hopefully, Google will let us know what Wear OS 3 has in store for us at Google IO 2022. And we’ll see how many of these features, if any, have been implemented.

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