Google’s in a tough spot with Wear OS. It’s been four and half years since the operating system arrived as Android Wear, and while plenty of manufacturers have tried their hand at devices, the operating system has failed to make a large dent on the smartwatch category. Apple continues to dominate the space, while top competitors Samsung and Fitbit have opted to go in-house with their operating systems.
In February, Android Wear got a modest 2.0 update, and the following month, the operating system got a full-on rebrand. “We’re now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone,” the company said at the time. Even with all of that movement over the past year, Wear OS is still in need of an upgrade. By a number of early accounts, the 2.1 update, which is starting to roll out to users, is a strong step in that direction.
This latest version brings new swipe gestures, prioritizing notifications, settings, Google Fit and Assistant. Those last two are also getting some key upgrades, helping bring the company’s health and AI offerings up to speed with the competition.
While the smartwatch play has appeared fairly stagnant at times, it’s important to remember as Android celebrates its 10th anniversary that the smartphone OS wasn’t exactly a rousing success out of the gate. In the meantime, Apple, Fitbit and the like have proven that smartwatches do have some staying power, and once again analysts are bullish on the category.
Earlier this month, meanwhile, Qualcomm reaffirmed its commitment to Wear OS by showcasing its chip architecture promising extended battery life. It seems as if enough players are involved and hopeful in Wear OS to keep it going, but there’s still a lot of work to be done if it’s going to break out of the looming shadow of the Apple Watch.