Google has yet to launch its first smartwatch, but the company may already be working on the next steps in its wearable plans. According to one Protocol report, Google plans to integrate fitness trackers into Google TV and Android TV as part of a broader campaign to strengthen its product ecosystem. The question is whether the historically fragmented Wear OS platform is up to the challenge.
The company reportedly unveiled the plans at a closed-door event with its TV partners, Protocol Reports. The idea is to allow Wear OS and Fitbit users to stream real-time metrics such as heart rate and calories burned on the screen. Better smart home management is also part of the plan. That said, these efforts can take some time. Google’s fitness plans reportedly won’t appear until 2023 at the earliest, with smart home efforts coming the following year. That’s partly because Google partners have to build more powerful smart TVs and streaming gadgets to make all of this possible.
In the short term, the company is also reportedly working to strengthen its wireless audio offerings on the platform. This includes the ability for Nest speakers to work wirelessly with TVs, as well as bringing Fast Pair to its Pixel Buds so users can more easily use them with Google TV devices.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because the plans are very similar to what Apple has done with their Fitness Plus Service and smart home offerings. Apple Watch owners can take video training sessions with their real-time stats displayed on Apple TV, iPhone or iPad. (And starting with watchOS 9, users will be able to stream real-time readings to non-Apple TVs via AirPlay.) You can also use HomePod or HomePod Mini with Apple TV 4K to create a home theater setup. You’ve also been able to pair AirPods with Apple TV for ages.
The thing is, Apple has always had a walled garden that makes it easier to realize its vision of gadgets that “just work.” There are slight differences between different versions of the Apple Watch, but overall you get a consistent Fitness Plus experience across all Apple devices. It would be one thing if this Google TV fitness tracker integration was for the next Pixel Watch alone. But if it has to be compatible with anyone Wear a bone or a Fitbit device, Google needs to figure out how to create a similar experience across different devices.
While Google convinced Samsung to team up to create a unified wearable platform, Wear OS 3 shows signs of the same fragmentation that has plagued previous versions of the platform. The Wear OS 3 we’ll see on the Pixel Watch will differ from the Samsung-powered Wear OS on the Galaxy Watch 4. Both are different from the stripped-down Wear OS 3 on the Montblanc Summit 3 I tested last week. While the Pixel Watch and Galaxy Watch 4 are Android only, the Summit 3 supports iOS. In addition, the Galaxy Watch 4 and Montblanc Summit 3 require a separate companion app to control the smartwatches. The three watches will run on different chips, sensors and health features. Theoretically, these differences shouldn’t matter, but history tells us they likely will when it comes to ecosystem-based experiments.
Fragmentation is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a double-edged sword. First, it provides more variety, and variety is the spice of life. Done right, Google’s ecosystem can benefit from strong third-party support. Applied to interactive home training, it could be a huge potential strength for Wear OS in the future. For example, if Peloton or Obé had a Google TV app that worked flawlessly with Wear OS or Fitbit devices, that would be incredibly cool. Google wouldn’t even have to pay to produce fitness content in-house like Apple does.
On the other hand, it means Google has to work closely with third-party partners to make sure we’re all doing well. The Wear OS ecosystem has several moving parts, each of which must work well enough to keep it running. A weak link can stop everything. For example, Wear OS wasn’t entirely Google’s fault. Qualcomm didn’t have a wearable chip powerful enough for the platform to play on the same playing field as its competitors. (That may soon change, though.) Outdated hardware has fueled software stagnation, leading to lackluster smartwatches. It’s a vicious cycle that Google is only beginning to break.
Wear OS 3 – and Google’s vision of ambient computing – is still in its delicate transition phase. We do not know the final form of Wear OS 3, and there will more growing pains to come. Right now, the Pixel Watch isn’t out yet, and neither is Qualcomm’s new wearable chip. Fossil has yet to drop its first flagship Wear OS 3 line, and Fitbit has promised a premium Wear OS smartwatch in the future. That said, it’s hugely encouraging to see that Google is thinking big and has plans for the platform beyond the Pixel Watch. Let’s hope the bet pays off.