Google's line of smartwatches formerly known as Android Wear, now known as Wear OS, have suffered from sameness and repetition. Lots of manufacturers, too much mediocrity, and none of them really good at all.
But there are big changes coming this year. Google's confirmed there will be a revamp of Wear OS watches, starting with at least one product arriving this fall, maybe even up to three. Will it be Google's own Pixel watch to join the Pixel 3 phone and Google's growing line of self-made products like Google Home, Daydream View, Google Clips and the Pixelbook? Or, will it be made by others, like Google tends to do with some products? (For example: the Mirage Solo and VR180 cameras, both made by Lenovo.)
Here's what we know about Google's biggest shot at challenging the Apple Watch 4 expected this fall.
Google may finally make its own watch, at last…
Every previous Android Wear watch was produced by another company, from LG to Samsung to Huawei to Fossil. Google's own Pixel-branded watch has been reported by some pretty reputable sources, most notably by blogger Evan Blass.
A Google-designed watch would join Google Home, Google Pixel Buds, the Pixel phones and Daydream View VR headsets in Google's expanding hardware lineup. And it could mean totally unique features Google wants to debut in its flagship device.
…or will there be three Google watches?
A report in May indicated that there are three Google smartwatches on the way, not one. But that could be easily explained by variants in feature sets. The Apple Watch Series 3 comes with and without cellular, and Google's Pixel watch could be the same. Maybe one watch variant is another size.
A whole new Qualcomm chipset will give it better battery life.
Qualcomm has confirmed it's designing a new wearable chipset with Google which will be the engine to power next-gen watches better. Qualcomm's Pankaj Kedia, senior director of Qualcomm's Smart Wearables Segment, told CNET that "Our focus is, how do we significantly enhance user experiences, how Google Assistant works and how it presents itself. More visually appealing, but less power."
The watch will likely have added power modes, too. Says Kedia, "Today, you have different modes: interactive mode, then the ambient mode and low battery. Of course the new architecture will enhance all of the above. Exactly how it does it, I'm dying to tell you."
Now Playing: Watch this: Google's smartwatches get a smarter Assistant
Expect an always-on Google Assistant on your wrist…
I talked with both Qualcomm's Kedia and new head of Wear OS product director Dennis Troper earlier this year, and both repeatedly mentioned Google Assistant as a key feature in the next watch. Wear OS' on-watch Assistant update already improves things with added Actions and on-screen contextual follow-up suggestions, but Qualcomm's new chips will allow for more continuous always-on listening, instead of just activating at a wrist-raise.
…And more fitness coaching.
Google's Troper also says that more on-watch Assistant-driven guidance will be fitness insight-driven. That could mean more automatic awareness of recent workouts, suggested exercises or the types of insights that are generally absent from fitness trackers, but pop up occasionally on the Apple Watch and Fitbit trackers.
GPS, VoLTE and improved heart rate with stress sensing?
The same German report that claimed there will be three Google smartwatches detailed some possible specs: GPS, LTE and VoLTE support, and some (or all) will have heart rate sensing along with the ability to detect stress levels. Some of these features already exist on other smartwatches, but many Wear OS watches have tended to leave cellular, GPS and heart rate off the table as of late. The chipset could be called Snapdragon Wear 3100.
A new design?
Qualcomm's Kedia suggested to CNET that the next watch revamp will be aimed at looking better: "What do watch companies and fitness companies and sports companies want? To look beautiful, more visually appealing." That could also mean a slimmed-down look: current Android Wear/Wear OS watches tend to be pretty bulky to accommodate large batteries.
How many other watches will join Wear OS?
Of course, there won't just be one next-gen Wear OS watch. (And as I mentioned above, Google might even make several of its own.) The most surprising rumor points to Samsung making its next Gear S4 watch run on Wear OS instead of Tizen. Samsung's been down the Android Wear road before with the Samsung Gear Live back at Android Wear's launch in 2014, so it's not impossible that Samsung might even have two varieties of watches planned.
An October debut, alongside the Pixel 3?
Google's next Pixel 3 phone will probably come out in October, because… the Pixel and Pixel 2 arrived in October 2016 and 2017, too. Patterns can be interrupted, of course, but the October release strategy seems to have been working out well for Google so far, and steers clear of a direct iPhone/Apple Watch showdown since Apple usually launches those products in September.
Price: most likely, Apple Watch-range
The Apple Watch Series 3 starts at $329, £329 and AU$459. A full-featured Pixel watch would probably cost at least as much. Last year's premium Android Wear watch with cellular phone calls and GPS, the LG Watch Sport, cost $350 and £350 (roughly equivalent to AU$568).
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