Google’s Wear OS 3 update plans are bad new for current smartwatches

Google has finally given its new, unified smartwatch platform a name — and it’s an obvious one: Wear OS 3. That little detail was part of what may be a more contentious set of information about which current Wear OS smartwatches will be updated, when those updates will come, and what those updates will entail. On all three of those fronts, it’s not very good news.

Google says that Wear OS 3 updates will start rolling out to a limited set of smartwatches in the “second half of 2022.” That’s quite a long way away, especially since we’re expecting the first Wear OS 3 watches to be announced next month at Samsung’s Unpacked event.

Currently, the list of watches that could get the update “include Mobvoi’s TicWatch Pro 3 GPS, TicWatch Pro 3 Cellular/LTE, TicWatch E3 and follow on TicWatch devices, as well as Fossil Group’s new generation of devices launching later this year,” according to Google’s post.

That leaves a lot of Wear OS watches out, including everything from Fossil and its associated brands. And that list also leaves all of Samsung’s Tizen-based watches out. They’re currently the best option for most Android users, but they now appear to officially have an expiration date.

There’s no other way to put this: for Android users, it’s not a good idea to buy a smartwatch right now. Everything that’s available today either won’t be updated or won’t receive an update until late 2022. It’s the clearest and most direct example of the Osborne effect in recent memory.

And to be even blunter, it may not be a good idea to buy watches that are on that list, as there are further complications with that update. Google says that “in some limited cases, the user experience may be impacted” but declined to elaborate further right now. That could mean a lot of things, but a common experience with any computer is new operating systems feeling slow on older hardware.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson promised that Google would “provide more details in advance of the update so users can make an informed decision.”

Additionally, upgrading to Wear OS 3 will require a full factory reset, wiping any settings and data you might have on the watch. Most of that should be backed up to your phone regardless as Wear OS apps usually aren’t fully self-contained on the watch, but it’s still likely to be a hassle. And you likely won’t be able to just hit a restore button after the update to bring back your old watch settings.

Google at least recognizes that many watch owners will not want to go through all that hassle, so it is offering a way to decline the update but still receive security patches. The company promises to continue to support the current version of Wear OS with updates and will offer security updates for “two years from device launch.”

The blog post is likely meant to get the bad news out of the way early so that the decks are cleared for Samsung’s Galaxy smartwatch announcements — not to mention rumors of a Google Pixel watch that may also be in the wings.

After so many years of languishing, the next version of Wear OS will have a lot to prove. Although it was announced this past May at Google I/O, we still don’t have a full picture of how it will actually work in real use. We know that it takes some elements from Samsung’s Tizen platform — like watchfaces — but that generally it’s more Wear OS than Tizen.

What we have seen of Wear OS 3 so far is promising. Google says it will be faster than current smartwatches while also offering longer battery life. It should also offer a standalone Google Maps app, offline Spotify music, and integrated Fitbit activity tracking.

All of which means that if you’re an Android user who wants a smartwatch, the best option you have right now is to simply wait until new Wear OS 3 watches are launched and reviewed.

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