Reviews - February 4, 2024

Apple and Samsung win the smartwatch war and things get worse

We consider smartwatches to be a separate category of devices with unique software and hardware design challenges. First of all, you wear it instead of carrying it in your pocket like a phone. Additionally, it must be small enough to fit comfortably on your wrist. But if there are effectively only three smartwatches to choose from, and they’re all made by the same company that makes smartphones, can they really be any meaningfully different?

This is a question we will have to answer in 2024. Fossil, once one of the leading Wear OS smartwatch manufacturers, has announced that it is exiting the wearables business, leaving Samsung and Apple as the remaining smartwatch suppliers globally. Google ranked third. The remaining companies serve more niche markets or focus on selling in Asia. In addition to limiting the options for customers looking for a watch to pair with their Android phone, it’s a dramatic decline that could impact the quality of wearable devices everywhere. The capabilities of smartwatches have been scaled back and likely will never expand again.

There when no one else is there

Fossil’s smartwatch looked “normal” in every way.

Photo: Alejandro Medellin

Fossil may not be a popular brand when it comes to smartwatches. very (Popular as an analog watch) It looks like an Apple or Galaxy Watch, but if you look closely, it is sold everywhere, including department stores and online. Fossil’s smartwatch was the first product I saw as my mom was transitioning from using a chunky Garmin watch for run tracking to more general use. As a manufacturer of jewelry, watches and accessories, Fossil’s relationship with the fashion world has given it a presence in stores in a way that other companies must buy.

Not all smartwatch manufacturers have the same hand.

So far, the company has been a consistent Wear OS partner, launching the first Wear OS (then called Android Wear) watch in 2015 and helping define the look of early smartwatches in much the same way as the Pebble’s colorful plastic and E Ink. This happens. Fossil was unique at the time, creating a smartwatch that actually looked like a regular watch, with a round dial, bezel, crown, and metal accents. Back in the days when Samsung used thick, square screens, it was noticeable. Fossil also stuck with Google’s wearable operating system, even though the company seemed to have lost interest in its own platform, surviving on low-power Qualcomm chips and appearing to have no new features for years.

The company’s decision to discontinue its smartwatch line appears to have been purely economic. From the statement The Verge, said Jeff Boyer, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “Fossil Group is redeploying its resources to support its core strengths and key segments of the business that continue to provide us with strong growth opportunities.” This is what Fossil did before smartwatches, like jewelry and leather goods. If people aren’t buying, you can’t blame them for stopping. Competition is fierce, and not all smartwatch manufacturers compete on equal footing.

Samsung and Google

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is more clunky and gadget-like than the company’s current smartwatches.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Modern Wear OS (technically Wear OS 4) is defined by Google’s deepening relationship with Samsung. New versions of Wear OS, starting with Wear OS 3, are built on the Tizen platform, originally released with the Galaxy Gear. It has design elements and features that are a natural extension of Android, but it’s Samsung’s software with Google services included and looks more similar to the One UI layer found on today’s Galaxy Watch.

Samsung has been in the smartwatch game for a while. The original Galaxy Gear launched the same year as the Pebble, and the company continued to iterate on the original’s features, removing the camera (yes, the first Galaxy Gear had a built-in camera) and switching to a circular display. The current Galaxy Watch’s bezel control and

Google’s foray into smartwatch hardware is relatively new. The Pixel Watch 2 launched last year and didn’t change much of the work already underway on the first-generation model to improve performance and battery life. Although not as popular as competitors like Google’s Pixel phones, the Pixel Watch is interesting in that it represents Google’s perspective on smartwatches. Even if Google perceives itself as some sort of meaningful alternative to Samsung, the company’s collaboration on the platform itself betrays the fact that Google probably doesn’t care how many smartwatches it sells. As long as Samsung continues to use Wear OS, Android, and Google’s own services, that’s a good thing.

Everything is Apple Watch

Apple Watch is an extension and add-on to your iPhone.

Photo: Raymond Wong

What’s unique about the Apple Watch, aside from being a “good” smartwatch, is how much of an accessory it is to your iPhone. We’ve written about the new level of independence Apple has given to watches like the Apple Watch Ultra. But anecdotally, no one I know uses this watch to run an ultramarathon or spend a weekend without using their phone. They like bigger, brighter screens and longer battery life.

The Apple Watch is successful not just because it’s good, but because it only works on iPhone. It expands on all the features you love about your phone plus a few extra sensors. Apple leverages these connections to provide unique features. A smartwatch can help you find your iPhone and other Apple devices. You can do everything your phone does, including make calls, send messages, control your home, and download and run apps.

Samsung treats the Galaxy Watch the same way. Although it can technically work on any Android device, you must use the Samsung app to use all of the Galaxy Watch’s health features, and the Samsung app is installed by default on Galaxy phones such as the Galaxy S24. Google isn’t limiting the Pixel Watch’s features to Pixel phone owners, but it does make certain Pixel-exclusive software features, such as call recording, available on the Pixel Watch. The tighter connection between smartphones and smartwatches made by the same company allows for integration and smoother performance not possible with devices like the Fossil Gen 6 smartwatch. How can I look more attractive?

Having fewer choices doesn’t help anyone

We can’t say for sure that the way Apple makes smartwatches and smartphones is what put Fossil out of business. But perhaps it has become more difficult to keep up. If there were more options, it might not matter that one company decided to stick to what it does best, but no other Android smartwatch has nearly the same reach.

Of course, there is Mobvoi’s Ticwatch. Garmin still makes smartwatches that can connect to Android phones, but its best products are geared toward athletes and don’t use Wear OS. This keeps watches made by companies like Huawei and Oppo from leaving Asia in the first place. Maybe OnePlus will finally introduce a sequel to the original OnePlus Watch, but we can’t hold our breath just yet.

With nothing else to fall back on, Apple, Google, and Samsung are left in charge of how smartwatches look and perform for the majority of people. This is not a vibrant ecosystem, especially when these companies’ smartwatches exist primarily to create smartphone counterparts. It’s harder to give up. The fossils weren’t huge, but they had perspective. The idea was to create a watch for people who don’t want to wear a device on their wrist. Now it’s gone, and it’s hard to imagine any kind of “non-partisan” smartwatch maker having a chance to take its place.