Samsung and Fitbit Announce Next Watches To Be Wear OS

2021-05-18 (29)

Google just turned up the heat on their own wearables platform, by announcing that both Samsung and Fitbit will shift to Google Wear OS going forward. In the case of Samsung, they confirmed they’ll launch their next Galaxy Watch on Wear OS, while Fitbit confirmed they’ll be bringing “premium smartwatches” to Wear OS. Of course, while the Fitbit confirmation is no surprise (and not the first time they’ve committed to it), the Samsung one is a huge shift in things going forward.

The announcement was made as part of Google I/O, their developer-focused event that kicked off today. This is similar to Apple’s WWDC that’ll be held in a few weeks, or Microsoft’s Build conference. These events typically focus on developer announcements around the software platform and ways 3rd party developers can utilize it. They don’t often directly feature major hardware announcements, but rather lay the foundation for them. In the case of Google, Samsung, and Fitbit – these undoubtedly lay the foundation for their typical August/September announcement timeframe.

The entire portion of the multi-hour keynote dedicated to Wear OS was only about 10 minutes, which covered brief appearances from both Fitbit and Samsung executives, as well as Google’s own executive, Sameer Samat. To kick things off, he started the Samsung section saying:

“And now we’re combining the best of our two operating systems, Wear OS and Tizen, into a unified platform focused on faster performance, longer battery life, and a thriving developer communality.”

In general, they were pretty light on details, except to say that they’ve been working together to get apps working 30% faster than before, and that with new component subsystems, they boasted about being able to run the optical heart rate sensor 24×7 without huge battery hits.

2021-05-18 (21)

Undoubtedly, the employees at Fitbit internally snickered at this, as they (and every other platform) have been running optical HR sensors for days to weeks at a time without any massive battery depletion like Wear OS. Still, progress be progress!

They brought on a Samsung executive, Patrick Chomet, who noted that the “next Samsung Galaxy watch” will be built atop Wear OS, and will feature the “Google Play Store, Google Maps, and more”.

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And that’s about where the details ended for Samsung.

From there it was on to a very brief update on planned Wear OS platform updates (most of which we’ll get more details on in a subsequent session). These very short updates included better fast switching between apps, expanded Tiles support API, and a revamp of Google Maps turn by turn navigation. But again, details were light here.

Then it was Fitbit’s turn. They brought on founder and CEO James Park, who noted that Fitbit has now shipped 130 million devices since the company’s inception.

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He went on to make two announcements. The first is that Fitbit will be bringing some sort of app or tile experience to Wear OS, saying:

“We’re working to bring the best of Fitbit to Wear. We’ll be making some of Fitbit’s most popular features available on Wear watches, including tracking your health progress throughout the day, and on wrist celebrations to keep you motivated.”

And then he went onto confirm what Google previously announced, upon the acquisition of Fitbit some year and a half ago – that Fitbit will be making Wear OS watches:

“In the future we’ll be building premium smartwatches based on wear, that combine the best of Fitbit’s health expertise, with Google’s ambient computing capabilities.”

As for the timing of when we’ll see new watches, it’s hard to say exactly. Fitbit didn’t say there, though, immediately as James ended, Google’s Sameer Samat replied/said “I couldn’t be more excited for all the updates starting to roll out this fall” – but he’s likely referring to the Google platform update timeframe there. Or not. You decide.

Ultimately, the bigger news here is the Samsung bits. Sure, Fitbit will be big news when it happens – but that was already expected. The real question is will Fitbit/Google/Samsung be able to find the right combination of chipsets that’ll satisfy the ever-present battery concerns for Wear OS, in terms of what a typical Fitbit consumer would expect with respect to week-long battery life? As of now, that’s the million dollar question.

With that – thanks for reading!

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21 Comments

  1. I’m really interested in what this is going to do in the sports watch market. I think this makes what Suunto has done very interesting. Obviously their current watches aren’t going to benefit from this but next generation Suunto watches are going to benefit from having both excellent sports features and Fitbit functionality.

    • inSyt

      Fitbit might lock the Fitbit functionality to Fitbit watches? Similar to how Google locks Gcam goodness to Pixel devices.

    • Aleksander H

      In some ways they will benefit from it.
      – GPay now available in far more countries.
      – YouTube Music with offline support is coming.
      – Spotify with offline Music/Podcast support is coming.
      – According to Google, third party tile support is due in “coming weeks”. Not sure if they mean via update which manufacturers can push out, or via update on Google Play.

      Also, Suunto have pushed out a lot of updates to the S7. I think they were the first to pus out the HRM-2 update. We shouldn’t rule out the possibility that this update will also be brought to the S7. We shouldn’t expect it either of course, unless announced by Suunto.

  2. inSyt

    Fitbit might lock the Fitbit functionality to Fitbit watches? Similar to how Google locks Gcam goodness to Pixel devices.

    • Nick K

      Even if they don’t, what has Fitbit to offer now? A glorified step counter to challenge my coach potato family in fastest run to the fridge?

      Their continuous heart rate tracking won’t survive in the world of Snapdragon SoC tied HR sensors and Wear OS battery munchies. Thus I’d imagine the quality of sleep tracking and analysis will take a hit too. As per workout features, Fitbit was fairly pedestrian in that regard and never felt much need to improve. They are light years behind everyone, even Apple in that regard.

      Honestly, I don’t see why Google felt the need to grab Fitbit in the first place, apart from probably some sensor R&D, juicy wearable IP, and a wish to kill off a limping competitor while Google themselves are still standing.

    • jww

      Instead of looking from the lens of a hardware acquisition, would stress Google acquired the largest biometric data set in existence. Plenty of value there to a Google, even if in Fall 2019 they weren’t 100% sure what they were going to do with it.

    • GLT

      The reasons you listed along with Fitbit brand recognition are reasonable motivations unless they have already decided to leaving the market in the near term. Whether they are worth what was paid for them & can be effectively leveraged is another matter. Alphabet fitness offerings may not be as successful as Apple or Garmin, but they can probably afford to continue on financially for a while.

      If nothing else, their investment in wearables doesn’t seem to be limiting potential investment in other areas.

      I suspect they will end up on a parallel trajectory with Amazon with the offering being less relevant to the sports & running crowd.

    • Brett

      I’d argue a lot, at least a non-tech consumer view.

      Use case in point. I have been with Garmin for a long-time and have a 6X Pro, but moved to Wahoo away from Tacx for a variety of reasons.

      To then my point, my wife wanted a wearable and we got her a Charge 4. OK it may not be as accurate on some GPS, but from a UI point of view she likes it and the app to me is far better than Garmin. More insights, integrated food intake.

      I’ve stopped using my Garmin except anything but recording activities as they don’t provide an integrated view; yes, they have Map My Fitness integrations etc, but as a consumer I don’t want that. I want a singular UI and Garmin is falling behind in this regard (don’t get me started on the cost of the INdex S2 vs the Aria Air too)

    • Joe

      >Their continuous heart rate tracking won’t survive in the world of Snapdragon SoC tied HR sensors and Wear OS battery munchies. Thus I’d imagine the quality of sleep tracking and analysis will take a hit too.

      The Ticwatch 3 Pro, with the Snapdragon 4100, has great sleep tracking, continuous heartrate tracking, and SpO2 tracking, with almost no battery hit. It uses Tichealth (and I would suspect they’ve worked with Qualcomm closely on optimization), not Google Fit though. That would presumably be more evidence that Wear OS had some major problems. Hopefully the new version is the answer. Presumably, Samsung wouldn’t switch unless they were confident it would be sort of equivalent to their previous generations.

      I’m cautiously optimistic about the new update, but we’ll see.

  3. Sarah Harrison

    Even though this is going on Fit bit needs to fix their update on all their watches. I just got a Fit bit Sense and I paid a lot of money for it and it won’t sync all the time. I read a lot of people are having troubles with their Fitbits on syncing. Please fix the PROBLEM!!!!!!

  4. Sparts

    Suunto next. I think we’ll see a new watch in the next two weeks.

  5. Sport Goofy

    It might be the case that googles ongoing own chip development find a way to the Wear OS devices, at least there are rumors for that. And also for an own google pixel smart watch.

    However, I am looking forward to a DCR review when they come out, especially the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 could be of interest then. BTW is there a reason why you never reviewed the the version 3 of the Galaxy watch ?

  6. Tom

    First Polar M600 and then Suunto 7.

    When WearOS actually finds a way to make the battery last 40+ hours with GPS and oHRM running, I will definitely consider a watch from either Suunto or Polar running WearOS.

  7. Bob

    I was going to write a long winded comment on this thread about how this is Google making another half-assed attempt at reviving Wear OS. Then I found this article on the Verge:

    link to theverge.com

    Well said.

    • It’s funny, I read that last night too.

      It’s interesting, as it times the article seemed to be implying Wear OS is going away and Tizen is going to replace it. Which, isn’t really the take I got. That said, I did notice the wording tweaks in the presentation when I watched it from “Wear OS” to just “Wear”.

      Ultimately, my stance has long been that I don’t think Wear OS will be taken seriously (internal or external to Google) until Google actually develops their own watch for it, and has enough financial or marketing skin in the game to care.

  8. mato

    Great. That puts an end to me even considering a Samsung watch in future. I don’t want anything from Google. I consider Google very unreliable, most of their products are worse than what’s available on the market, their whole business model is privacy invading. I quite like Samsung but would be happier if they were able to get rid of Google. If Huawei could do that, why not Samsung. Anyways, I won’t buy any Wear OS products, that’s for sure.

  9. D Jones

    I do hope major improvements happen for other users as I have now given up on my Fitbit completely and will be moving away from the brand due to lack of customer support.