Samsung & Google Are Rethinking Smartwatch Software


It’s hard to think of the words “smart watch” without thinking about the Apple Watch. Apple’s all-conquering smart wristwear wasn’t actually the first such device to reach the market, but it’s by far and away the most popular. Just as Apple didn’t invent the mobile phone but revolutionized the idea in such a way that they now dominate the market, they’ve done the same with smart watches. The combination of Apple’s hardware and software has proven to be a winning one so far, which is a source of frustration for both Google and Samsung. 

While there’s no solid business connection between Google and Samsung, they share a common enemy in Apple. Samsung would very much like to increase its market share when it comes to smart watches. Google wants to make the software that runs them. The two companies have been quietly working together for some time on an answer to the popularity of the Apple Watch, and they’ve now come up with a new concept – one that promises to break new ground while simultaneously making Samsung’s watches simpler and more accessible. It’s interesting stuff, and there are some exciting details we can share with you. 

The big takeaway from the news that’s leaked this week is that Google’s Wear OS and Samsung’s Tizen will no longer be separate entities. They’re merging both platforms together to create a new kind of operating system that will take the best elements of both and add to them. For now, the “Wear” name is staying, but that might change when the first watch units to use the new software are built and shipped. From Google’s point of view, this is a huge win because it should drastically increase the number of smart watches that use Android, but it’s also a win for developers and watch app makers. Until now, they’ve had to make separate versions of their apps for each operating system. Now they only have to make one – which makes the prospect of tailoring apps for the new watches more appealing and less time-consuming. 

One advantage that Samsung’s watch software has always had over Google’s is speed. Slow response times are apparently going to become a thing of the past from now on. Both companies claim that the new operating system is up to thirty per cent faster than the latest version of Wear OS, with smoother transitions and fewer of the jagged animations that some of us have become accustomed to seeing on Android watches. There are also going to be significant improvements when it comes to battery life. Again, this is something that Samsung’s software tended to do better with than Google’s. Examples offered by the company include the ability to eave the sleep monitor on overnight without having to worry about charging your watch in the morning or keeping the heart rate sensor on continuously rather than selectively. 

One of the proposed (or planned) updates will apparently allow owners of the next Samsung Galaxy watch to use some phone functions even if their phone isn’t with them. Google Maps will run on a watch even if there isn’t a phone in the vicinity, and “cellular data support” could be a pathway to a whole range of functions. We don’t think you’ll be able to make calls through your watch in the absence of your phone, but it’s conceivable that you might be able to send messages. Spotify’s permission for Samsung watches to download music for offline listening will also be extended to the new software, which is something Google hasn’t had access to in the past. Perhaps more importantly, it’s something Apple still doesn’t have access to now. 

While fewer details have been given about this, there have been hints that we might see a degree of gaming support. The idea of playing games on a smart watch might seem absurd right now, but twenty years ago, we’d have said the same thing about mobile phones. We’re already aware that some users have found ways to play online slots on their smart watches. Again, this might not sound significant, but that’s only until you hear that online slots websites are part of an industry worth more than fifty billion dollars per year. They’re far more popular than people think, and they show what’s capable in terms of gaming with a minimal amount of processing power on the host device. If it’s possible to load Rose Slots for New Zealand Players on a smart watch and play online slots that way, it will also be possible to play low-intensity games. Maybe we’re about to see the smart watch equivalent of “Snake” for the 2020s. 

So far, it sounds like Samsung is putting more into this partnership than Google, but Google has tools of its own to bring to the table. One of them is Fitbit, which Google acquired at considerable expense at the beginning of 2021. Although the “full” version of Fitbit won’t be installed on the new phones, aspects of Fitbit’s activity tracking and health functionality will be present by default. Google has also committed to allowing device makers to fully customize the new platform to make it look like they want it to look, which is a stark contrast to Apple’s general approach. 

The one thing we don’t know yet is when the first Samsung watches to use the new operating system will be built and sold. We’re assuming it will happen later this year – probably around fall when big hardware announcements or reveals tend to happen. The companies have a lot of work to do if they’re going to catch up with Apple, which is still shifting almost eight million Apple smart watches per quarter, but maybe this will be a case of two heads being better than one. Apple has had a rough twelve months in terms of public relations, and the great affection that the public once had for the company is beginning to wane. The tide might be about to turn in the battle for smart watch supremacy – and Google and Samsung are the ones riding the wave. Watch this space for more news.