Kellen, from Droid Life, writes the following about the state of Google’s Wear OS smartwatch platform.
Sadly, Kellen’s summary of Wear OS’ state is accurate. The platform had so much promise when it was initially released, and some publications - such as Ars Technica - applauded the platform’s notification management system. Like many Google products, users are probably waiting for the company to pull the plug on this project anytime. Last month, Engadget reflected on Wear OS’ history and noted that the product hadn’t changed much over its five-year life, having only received incremental updates.
Ultimately, the languishing state of Wear OS has some implications for the wearable market. Apple is dominating, and will likely continue to dominate, the smartwatch market with an estimated 27% market share. While there are other players in the space, notably Fitbit, Xiaomi, Samsung, and Huawei, each pales in comparison to Apple’s business. Wear OS was exciting because it provided a standard OS (like Android) but still allowed for innovation on the hardware front - with manufacturers launching several form factors. Wear OS is also a cross-platform option, so it has the potential to serve a larger user base.
Google’s lack of updates for Wear OS is reflective of the lack of attention paid to many of its other products - namely software services. Ars Technica argued that Google’s track record of killing off services that users have invested time into damages the overall trust in the brand. So far Google hasn’t hinted at plans to shutter Wear OS… but I have to wonder if it’s only a matter of time.
Users might be annoyed when services are shut down, but they are typically given notice and the opportunity to download (or migrate) their data. However, if a user has invested in a piece of hardware that they hope to keep for a number of years, the shutdown is more painful. People buy Apple Watches and Fitbit for their features, but also because they’re confident these products will be well supported over time.
Kellen also points out that Google, despite competing in many other technology markets, seems uninterested and unable to develop its own smartwatch.
In summary, I think the Wear OS story is a cautionary tale for the tech industry. A few months back I wrote about the abandonware economy. Abandoning services, especially those that are free, erodes user confidence but it’s not the end of the world. Abandoning paid software, or making it impossible for users to back up their purchased software, is extremely problematic. Allowing entire hardware platforms or operating systems to languish takes this to the next level. Wearables, unlike the phone market, had the potential to be so much more diversified. If Google does eventually pull the plug on Wear OS, I hope it at least creates a space for more competition and cross platform solutions.