Reviews - January 30, 2024

Fossil Wear OS watches are dead. It’s Google’s fault.

When news broke over the weekend that Fossil was abandoning its Wear OS smartwatch, I immediately started listening to Queen’s iconic song, “Another One Bites the Dust.” However, rather than feeling sad about another brand leaving the Android smartwatch game, I felt more frustrated and disappointed. As I’ve said many times, I’m a fan of smartwatches. For better or worse, I always have something on my wrist, usually a Wear OS device. There are a few reasons for this, but one of the biggest is that I like variety.

So as options for Wear OS wearables continue to shrink, frustration with Google, and to some extent Samsung, grows. There are some really great Android smartwatches to choose from, and the quality of the hardware and software has never been better, but fans of the platform are quickly running out of options. One of the things you can enjoy about your smartphone is variety. But even in that area, the United States is less fortunate than other parts of the world. In the end, Google can be seen as the main reason for Wear OS’s collapse.

The choice of Wear OS fans

Montblanc Summit 3 Wear OS 3 Hands on 16

This isn’t the first time I’ve been critical of Wear OS and what Google is and isn’t doing with the platform. Last fall, I wrote about how the Wear OS relaunch flopped and how Google Assistant is a mess on Wear OS. Internally, we hoped that Google’s neglect of the platform would be addressed and that it would do better in supporting OEM partners in the future. Yes, I was wrong.

Frankly, we should have seen Fossil move out of Wear OS back in January 2019 when Google bought much of its “smartwatch technology” from Fossil. Fossil has created some of the coolest wearables up to that point, and now they’re out. Came up with a great idea for a device. At least as much as Wear OS allowed at the time. That’s because in 2019, smartwatch brands using Wear OS couldn’t customize their software. The only things allowed were custom apps for the watch. So at that point, any manufacturer could do it through a custom app or watch style to differentiate itself from the next watch.

It was a style that completely set Fossil apart from the rest of the Wear OS players. Fossil has been making traditional wristwatches for decades and has brought that lineage to more technologically advanced wearable devices. Unfortunately, between Google stealing part of its smartwatch business and teaming up with Samsung to launch Wear OS 3, Fossil was doomed.

Pixel Watch 2 and Galaxy Watch 6 Classic side by side on one wrist

When Wear OS 3 launched in August 2021, Samsung was the first to get a taste of it with the Galaxy Watch 4 series. At the time, Android smartwatch fans were enthusiastic. Despite how great Samsung’s wearables were on devices running the internal Tizen OS, the platform lacked a few key components, primarily access to the Google Play Store. But as time went by and news about when older Wear OS watches might get an update trickled out slowly, like many others, I became anxious.

After initially saying that existing Wear OS devices wouldn’t be updated to the new platform, months later Google said some watches would be eligible for the update as long as their internal specs are top-notch. Fossil was the first OEM to deliver the Wear OS 3 update to its wearables, but it took Samsung nearly a year to release it and another year to get Wear OS 3.5, with that update not arriving until November 2023. By then, Samsung had launched both the Galaxy Watch 5 series and the Galaxy Watch 6 series, the latter featuring Wear OS 4.

That’s without even mentioning the fact that Google launched its first smartwatch, the Pixel Watch, and its successor, the Pixel Watch 2. The only other notable Wear OS OEM still in the game is Mobvoi. Ticwatch line. In 2023, we finally launched a new smartwatch from the brand, the TicWatch Pro 5, running Wear OS 3.5. This is a great wearable product with top specs. But so did the previous model. Unfortunately, the Wear OS 3 update for Mobvoi took even longer to be released until December 2023.

Google Pixel Watch 2 and Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 5 on table with red and green lights

While these delays aren’t entirely Google’s problem, they play a central role in the problem. Not all the details have been made public, but it appears that Google had to sell some of its “soul” to get Samsung on board with Wear OS in the first place, and in doing so allowed the Android giant to dictate access to the platform. Even Google failed to get the latest version of Wear OS on its wearables before Samsung.

It makes sense that Google would want Samsung so badly on its wearable platform. It is the world’s largest Android brand. But the Wear OS platform as a whole struggled to secure Samsung’s participation. It took Google so long to make any real effort to refresh its platform that it had to take the drastic step of handing over at least partial control to another brand. This is Samsung. Unfortunately, all of Wear OS has really benefited from Samsung since its relaunch, with OEM skinning and, for non-Samsung devices running Wear OS 4, the ability to back up and transfer your watch to a new phone. The reason I say non-Samsung devices is because Galaxy wearables have allowed this feature for years.

As I wrote last September, Android wearables need some fresh ideas to compete with the Apple Watch. Ignoring the platform for years and then diluting the options for Wear OS fans by tying one hand to the back of a case from a brand other than Samsung or Google continues to weaken the platform. Due to the way Wear OS is being relaunched and delays in updates from third-party OEMs, it looks like updated code won’t be shipped to the brand until after Samsung launches its new watch. This puts all these manufacturers at a huge disadvantage in the market.

Wear OS devices are slowly turning into bad copies of Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Ultra next to Pixel Watch 2 and Galaxy Watch 6 Classic

The Apple Watch is great, but it’s the antithesis of what Android is and, by extension, what Wear OS is. Wear OS fans have more options than Apple users, but they’ve dwindled dramatically over the years, and even fewer around the release of Wear OS 3. Now that Fossil is gone, Android smartwatch users who want a Wear OS watch have three main choices: Samsung, Google, or Mobvoi. And the latter doesn’t even have access to Google Assistant on the latest smartwatches running Wear OS 3.5.

As things progress, Mobvoi may no longer exist. This would make me very sad because I have been a fan of what the brand does for a long time. But even more so because with only watches from popular phone manufacturers to choose from, Wear OS would largely be a bad copy of what Apple offers. Of course, we are left with two options, but they are few. Fossil’s exit from Wear OS isn’t entirely shocking, but it’s a stark reminder that unless you have a huge marketing budget and can’t offer Wear OS smartwatches for free, your life as an Android smartwatch maker may be short.

  • mobvoi-ticwatch-pro-5-square Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 5

    $262 $350 $88 off

    The TicWatch Pro 5 is Mobvoi’s most versatile smartwatch with new features and software that makes it a truly exciting choice for your wrist. A dual-layer display takes the concept a bit further, making it easier to view and saving battery life.

  • Google Pixel Watch 2 white background angle Google Pixel Watch 2

    The Google Pixel Watch 2 is the sequel to Google’s first self-branded smartwatch. The second generation doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but instead brings a few simple improvements, such as a redesigned Digital Crown, Wear OS 4 out of the box, and a newer chipset that delivers better performance and battery life.

  • Black Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 positioned at an angle Samsung Galaxy Watch 6

    $235 $300 $65 off

    Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 is definitely one of the best Android watches. Especially if you’re already part of the Samsung ecosystem. With a sapphire crystal display, Exynos W930 processor, 2GB RAM, and up to 425mAh battery, this watch is built for solid performance.