Later this fall, Google is expected to launch the Pixel Watch. Given Wear OS’s history, there’s understandably a lot of anticipation. Will the watch be good? Will it fail to deliver the promise of Wear OS 3? Honestly, those questions might be more appropriate for future iterations of the watch. For now, all Google has to do is create a smartwatch that does the basics well.
Case in point, XDA Developers recently reported that Google seems to be hard at work addressing an egregious oversight in Wear OS: backups. In an APK teardown of Google Play services v 22.23.12 beta, XDA says that there’s code that refers to “companion backups” via Google One. Right now, if you upgrade to a new phone, you can’t back up your non-Samsung Wear OS smartwatch data. Yes, although it’s 2022 and nearly every consumer gadget lets you create cloud backups, you still have to factory reset your Wear OS smartwatch. (Technically, there is a workaround to this inconvenience — but you shouldn’t need a workaround for something as basic as a cloud backup. )
This just underscores how low the bar is for the Pixel Watch. Competitors like Samsung and Apple already have cloud backup for their watches because, again, it’s 2022. So long as the Pixel Watch can make it 24 hours on a single charge, has a snappy chip, and can go down the list of expected smartwatch features (e.g., contactless payments, music streaming, basic fitness tracking, backups, etc.), it’ll succeed at Not Sucking, which is all Google needs to establish that its wearables can play ball. Anything else on top of that is gravy.
And there’s reason to believe that Google can succeed in creating a smartwatch that can rise above the bar of “not sucking.” Since announcing Wear OS 3 with Samsung at I/O 2021, Google has made demonstrable strides in making Wear OS a viable platform. Not only have more popular third-party developers created optimized Wear OS 3 apps but also Google’s made an effort to bring app improvements to Wear OS 2 as well. That includes software like Google Pay and Messages, streaming via YouTube Music, and other basic touches you’d expect to see on modern smartwatches. That momentum only seems to be picking up as we get closer to the Pixel Watch’s debut. For instance, 9to5Google found signs that the Pixel Watch may also support Google Fi, which could suggest the watch might support LTE data without needing a phone number. (Or Google could go the same route as other carriers and charge a small fee for an extra line.)
Google Fi support would go beyond the “just don’t suck” bare minimum. But also, according to its I/O 2022 presentation, we can expect a streamlined Wear OS 3 UI, a new Fitbit integration, and emergency calling. We should expect apps like Google Assistant, YouTube Music, Google Wallet, Google Home, and Google Maps — which is a solid lineup as far as native apps go. At least on paper, this is what I’d expect to see in a modern smartwatch.
I’m not ready to say the Pixel Watch will be good or even “good enough.” That’s not something I can decide until I’ve put it through its paces. There are things that you simply can’t know from a spec sheet, like how well it integrates with non-Pixel phones, how snappy the performance is, and what real-life battery is like. I’m merely saying that the bar for a good Wear OS watch is stupendously low, and so far, Samsung’s been the only game in town. I’d be genuinely surprised if the Pixel Watch could give the Galaxy Watch 5 a run for its money. But if it can successfully provide Android users a viable alternative to a Samsung watch? That’s something we haven’t seen yet.