Report: Qualcomm Will Try to Save Wear OS This Year

Posted on May 14, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 31 Comments

Google: Over 20 Android Wear 2.0 Watches are Coming This Year

According to a new report, Qualcomm is designing a new chipset specifically for smartwatches. It could be Wear OS’s last hope.

It is not a secret open or otherwise that Wear OS—previously called Android Wear—is a failure. Google’s smartwatch platform provides a great user experience that is far more usable and discoverable than that on the Apple Watch. But it’s dogged by poor performance and battery life, and large, uncomfortable form factors.

The issue, according to Qualcomm senior director of wearables Pankaj Kedia, as told to Wareable, a wearables-focused blog, is that the current chipset that powers these watches isn’t optimal. It was, in fact, simply a modified version of a low-end smartphone chipset. Which was released in 2016 and then never updated.

So Qualcomm started over.

“It’s designed from the ground up for a no-compromises smartwatch experience with dedicated chips that make your watch look pretty when you’re not looking at it, that bring the best fitness and watch experience, and extend battery life,” Kedia told the publication. “We rethought the system architecture together [with Google].”

The new Qualcomm chipset, which isn’t named by Wareable, is expected later this year, and in time for the holidays. It has been custom-designed to support dedicated use cases and will include onboard Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. A version for fitness-oriented watches will include GPS. And LTE connectivity will be optional on both.

The new chipset is considerably smaller than its predecessors and will enable a much-needed new generation of smaller smartwatches.

“People have their normal watch where they can rely on long battery life, and then they have their smartwatch where the battery life is not as good and it does not look as sleek,” Kedia is quoted as saying. “When we want to add Fossils and the Michael Kors and LVs of the world, they don’t want that. A smartwatch is first and foremost a watch, it needs to look good, it needs to be sleek, it needs to look good when I’m looking at it or when I’m not looking at it. It cannot be static when I’m not looking at it; it cannot be black and white when I’m not looking at it. So when we talk to Fossil consumers and Michael Kors consumer, they want a no-compromises smartwatch.”

Kedia also notes that this new platform will “significantly change the Wear OS ecosystem” and “what you expect from a smartwatch.” It had better: From what I can tell, Wear OS is on life support today. And this new platform can’t arrive quickly enough.


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Comments (31)

31 responses to “Report: Qualcomm Will Try to Save Wear OS This Year”

  1. Daekar

    Unless you're part of the group obsessed with the quantified-self I still struggle to see the point of wearables. There has never been a time where I have thought, "Boy, I'd like to have notifications attached unavoidably to my body, my watch battery lasts too long, and golly I wish my phone screen were smaller." The over-connected/mental health issues that would come along with a wearable are quite enough reason to avoid them, but the rest of it is just the straw that broke the camel's back.

  2. John Noonan

    My problem with the Android watches has always been that anything that I found interesting is physically huge. I have an Apple watch now, and the size of it is fine (and the battery life is actually excellent...I can go almost three days without a charge). I do not feel that Wear OS currently has any real usability advantage over WatchOS, but I do hope that they can make the Wear watches be more appealing as I am someone who would switch back if I was correctly enticed.

    Here is a shocker for you: The biggest issue with the Apple Watch is Siri.

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  5. Angusmatheson

    I see more and more Apple watches every day (I admitted live in Northern California). There was a blip in fitbits but, those wrists are now turning to Apple watches. The advantage is that once you buy a watch, you are even more locked into a platform. You would have to change your watch and your phone at the same time. Mybe wearOS will have awesome designs that tempt iPhone users away, but I suspect that Apple will always make the experience on Apple Watch better enough for iPhone users that will never happen. Apple Watch is another moat that protects future iPhone sales. And after an unimpressive start, Apple Watch seems to be getting more and more popular. It makes wonder if HomePod (after its own unimpressive start) has hope as well....

  6. Jorge Garcia

    WearOs will be fine because Google is not going anywhere. Google wants to be all things to all people and they are slowly but surely getting their Smartphone game right, their laptop game (mostly) right, and their connected home game amazingly well done. There are some key places however, where they keep dropping the ball. 1. they need a messaging solution that works just like iMessage. 2. They need to have perfect sync between their in-house products just like Apple does. 3. They need to keep building-out (and re-brand) Android so that it becomes a much more credible tablet/laptop OS. ChromeOS is too fussy for a lot of people, especially when put against an iPad Pro with the keyboard cover.

  7. ivarh

    I had a Huawei watch that was slow and did not have nfc and support for google pay. When the Huawei watch 2 came out I got it and the google pay works fine. However some brainiac at google thought that switching the clock to mini player mode whenever the phone is playing music without putting in a option to disable this killed android wear for me. Apple did the same thing with the latest version of watchOS but they at least had the brains to let you disable that behaviour.

  8. chrisrut

    Hey! That watch in the picture? If it can announce the time in Morse Code, I'm in.

  9. wolters

    I'm a long suffering fan of WearOS and I welcome this news. I've always found WearOS to be far from the turkey people make it to be and it "just works." I have a Huawei Watch 2 Classic and turning off Huawei Health, always on screen and just using Google Fit, I get a SOLID 2 days, sometimes 2.5 days.

    But they need to hit a grand slam here. They need Health options that match or exceed Apple Watch and approach Fitbit levels for sure. In addition, battery life needs to be the best in the industry.

  10. Nicholas Kathrein

    This was always the problem. It wasn't really ever Android Wear software but it seemed as the updates could have been more timely. The issue always was that the SOC wasn't upgraded yearly and that Qualcomm didn't invest in it. I don't blame them. The market is so tiny that Qualcomm isn't going to make any money here. Google needed to pay Qualcomm to develop custom SOCs for this and hopefully this is what has happened because otherwise Apple will have the only chips good for watches and they don't care if they lose or break even if they own the market. Maybe Google's next in house chip could be for the watch as that has to be easier than trying to make the main SOC like Apple does. It would be a loss in $$ but you need to start somewhere.

  11. Bats

    I actually agree with this. 

    First and foremost, WearOS was never really the problem as Paul Thurrott wanted people to believe. Afterall, WearOS is only the software that runs the smartwatch. The problem according to Qualcomm Director is the hardware and therefore everything he said makes total sense.

    Everything this guy has said, has basically been everything I have always said on this website. EVERYTHING! I said that a smartwatch is fashion accessory, first and foremost. Therefore, like that the Qualcomm said, it has to look good. It can't look like a futuristic wrist band like the Microsoft Band. That design is not a versatile. 

    Also, I have several of these pre-WearOS watches with several leather bands to compliment the look and style of my shoes and belt. For me, battery isn't an issue because I always take off my watch at the end of an 8-10 work day and place it immediately in the charger. When I do so, the watch face always tells me that I have 65-75% of battery left on my watch. If longer battery life is what's preventing the WearOS smartwatch from becoming popular, than great. I probably go and buy those watches as well. People are not buying WearOS watches because it has WearOS. 90% of the people in the world don't care for that. They are doing it because they don't either like the style or the idea and practice of maintaining one.

    Second, if what the Qualcomm guy said is correct, then the problem with Wear OS smartwatches isn't WearOS, as Paul wants people to believe. The problem is hardware and the fact that designers don't want to creating a smartwatch because of the conflict between tech design and style design. If that's the case, go ahead Qualcomm...make everyone's day. 

    Lastly, WearOS or smart wearables are not EVER going to be on life support. LOL...that's funny. Tell that to Tag Heur, the makers of the $1500 Connected watches that run WearOS. It only makes sense that wearable technology will continue to evolve until there is actually a very practical use for it. Right now, it isn't. It's just a luxury "toy" for people to have. With that said, you know Google is always going to be in on this.

  12. SilentHero117

    This is why I went with something simple like the Nokia Steel. It is a nice "analog" watch that only tracks steps and my sleep activity, which it does a decent job for the most part. The best part is I just replaced the battery after 9 months.

    I would love to see the smartwatch in general take a leap forward with battery life, which is something that Fitbit seems to be working hard to achieve. Hoping this Qualcomm chipset will help with that.

  13. jimchamplin

    That it took them this long to figure out their hardware sucked is pretty sad.

    ”Hey guys? We never took this seriously, and just gave you a warmed over crappy SoC that was awful to start with. How’s it working? Oh. The platform is failing because of our criminally bad hardware? Oh... Maybe we could start working on something that’s actually made to do this. Oh. That’s what Apple did? Yeah, we’re like three years behind those guys in silicon design... even though that’s all our company does. Okay so like... how’s 2019 sound?”

    Is this why Wear OS watches are all the size of the moon? I’ve seen Invicta watches that are smaller than a lot of them!

    • Nicholas Kathrein

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      So I think what happened to be fair is that Qualcomm didn't know what the market was so when they made the 1st processor so they just tried to take an existing soc and if the sales were good they'd invest in making a watch soc like apple. Sales weren't good enough to warrant the investment. So nothing was done. Maybe last year Google went to Qualcomm to have to engineer an SOC for the watch. Paid for that development because you can't seed the smartwatch to Apple as people on Android could leave without a good watch. It's the only way the cost of engineering that Qualcomm chip would make any sense for Qualcomm.

      • jimchamplin

        In reply to Nicholas_Kathrein:

        Well no. I don't think Qualcomm had any clue when they started. Then again, they've never seemed to have any sort of sense for what's coming in the future. That might be their downfall. They're very much like Intel, in that they don't execute on what's coming, but instead try to leverage what they have to push into new areas.

        Doesn't always work.

        Hardly ever works.

        Re: The ways cost of engineering would make sense to Qualcomm. The very future of their company could ride on it. The arrow always points forward toward less power-intensive, more efficient silicon. If they aren't pushing the forefront of it, and are instead relying on generations-old designs to pick up the slack, that means that they likely don't have the chops to do it. If they did, then they would have spent the effort on it.

        If they did, they would have, and then implemented all of that technology into the SD845. But the 845 is a dog, with roughly half the single core performance of the main competition.

        I hope Qualcomm can deliver something freaking awesome, because I'm an Apple guy when it comes to mobile tech. If Snapdragons are not just "right behind" Apple CPUs, but are actually neck-and-neck, or beating Apple, then that means Apple will work even harder to push their designs.

        I don't want to see Apple's silicon turn into Intel.

    • Chris_Kez

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      I think Qualcomm always knew the hardware sucked; it just took this long to reach the right combination of market maturity and technical know-how. The continued growth of Apple Watch shows this is a real business, and has created enough awareness to help drive demand among Android users. It will take a little while to lure back some of the previous Android Wear adopters who were let down, but there is a much larger market of people who will be coming to these new and improved devices with no baggage.

      • jimchamplin

        In reply to Chris_Kez:

        Honestly if ...

        1) It wasn’t clear to the leaders of Google and Qualcomm, from sales and profits from Apple Watch vs traditional watches, that this is a real and growing market, well... heh.

        2) If fscking Qualcomm can’t do better than the utter garbage they’ve been peddling and now they have to “get serious,” then what hope do they have?

        No, Qualcomm is behind and now we can see it. The A11 whips the SD845 in single core, and consider that because of manufacturing lead-ins for the 2017 iPhones, the A11 was finalized likely around a year ago. Now the 845 will be arriving soon and is already behind.

        That’s what this is an indicator of. It’s not just Wear OS, it’s Qualcomm not being able to pull this off... because they’re apparently not good enough?

        • Chris_Kez

          In reply to jimchamplin:

          In regards to #1, see the reply from Nicholas. In regards to #2, admittedly I am not an SoC engineer, but I am not surprised that Apple's chip outperforms the SD845. I imagine Apple benefits considerably from not having to create a general purpose chip that can be dropped into dozens of different devices. So before declaring that Qualcomm isn't "good enough" to come up with a suitable SoC for wearables, let's see what they deliver over the next year or so now that they have declared their commitment to this. If we don't see notable improvements in performance and reductions in device size this holiday season, and/or if we see an Intel-like regression to an incremental tick-tock-tock-tock update cycle, then we can say Qualcomm can't get it done.

          • Nicholas Kathrein

            In reply to Chris_Kez:

            I agree. Apple has an advantage her. It could be they have better engineers or that they can take more chances at Apple on the SOC. If you have multiple designs in the oven to choose from you have a great chance for a good SOC and have a small chance for a great SOC. Qualcomm might only go with one or two main designs that they are more sure that will be a good year over year bump but really don't take many chances on doing as many designs which means less options when it's time for production. We don't know. It's clear Apple has a year to two years lead. The main issue though on that lead is that almost nothing really pulls out the full performance on the phone so a Pixel 2 seems as fast as an iphone X. It's only when doing 4k encoding and editing that it's clear which is faster.

  14. Tony Barrett

    I think WearOS still has a lot of potential, but early watch versions with inconsistent performance and battery life didn't help. Google didn't set a bar with their own product, so the quality varied wildly. I still use an LG G Watch R every day, and really like it, but performance fluctuates and the Snapdragon 400 CPU is average at best.

    Apple can't walk away with this. The iWatch is nothing special at all, so if Google launch a Pixel watch (if they do, please Google at a sensible price), then I for one would be very interested.

    • shameermulji

      In reply to ghostrider:

      "Apple can't walk away with this."

      They already are. Apple is walking away with the wrist-wearable market in the same manner that Amazon is walking away with the smart-speaker / home automation market.

      • behindmyscreen

        In reply to shameermulji:

        Amazon is not walking away with the smart speaker or home automation.

      • Chris_Kez

        In reply to shameermulji:

        For now, but I expect Apple's lead only lasts for another two-three years at best. The Android base, even just mid-tier and up is too large.

        • Stooks

          In reply to Chris_Kez:

          Apple is making their own custom chips and combined with their OS being able to use those custom chips, it is giving them advantages in smartphones and watches that no other player has.

          I live in the US. I have kids 3 of them, 14 and older. All of them have iPhones. All of their friends have iPhones. I go to their schools for events, and 99.8% of the students have iPhones. 98.9% of the parents do as well. Lots and lots of these kids now have iWatches and so do their parents. I bet 99.7% of them do not even know there is an Android watch.

          Apple's lead is simply too far. Heck I bet Fitbit and maybe even Garmin outsell Android watches.

          Until Google gets really serious about hardware, to the point of building their own custom silicon and updating it on a yearly basis their phones and watches are going to basically do nothing marketshare wise. (Google branded).

          The other players that still actually make Android wear watches are at the mercy of Qualcomm. Maybe Samsung moving to their own watch OS can get past these limitations....but I doubt it.

          Lets add to the list.....when was the last time you saw ANY advertising for a Android watch? Now think the same thing for a Apple Watch. Heck when was the last time you seen ANY kind of advertising for the Google Pixel phone....or the new Google Pixel Chromebook?

          I am not sure why Google makes any hardware to be honest.

          • Tony Barrett

            In reply to Stooks:

            That's a very blinkered opinion, but I guess that's what you see. The US market is unique, and while large, is a small percentage globally. In my line of work I see a lot of iPhones, but a huge number of Android devices. I generally don't see many smart watches at all though - Apple or Android. A smart watch isn't an essential item, so that market will take time to mature. Apple are a fashion brand company now, but whatever they're doing, it working for them. Google need to get the message out there, they need to ensure their partners show quality across a range of prices, but style and design now need to be as important.

            If Google get it right, with the number of Android users out there, a descent WearOS smart watch would really take the fight to Apple, and that would be good.

          • Chris_Kez

            In reply to Stooks:

            I guess we'll see. If you think Android Wear will not eclipse Apple Watch on a unit basis, then you are betting on the idea that Apple Watch is a market unto itself and that there will not be a smartwatch market outside of that. That is possible; it turns out that there isn't much of a credible "tablet" market outside of iPad. You have iPad, then you have everything else-- Amazon Fire HD tablets, a handful of Samsung and other credible Android tablets then a huge number of cheap no-name tablets from around the world-- oh, and I guess you have Surface and a few other Windows tablets at the very high and very low ends. But it really is iPad then everything else. I just think smartwatches will be different. Let's put a pin in this and come back in two years.

          • Jorge Garcia

            In reply to Stooks:

            Living in the US, I agree with a lot of what you say - but the US only represents less than 5% of the world's population and Apple WW market share is at or below 15% (even less when you consider that they always exclude non-urban China). iPhone sales have been almost flat for the last few years. Right now, it doesn't matter, as all the "wealth" is in iOS, but at some point, an 85%+ user base has to matter. Google just has to get their act together and make lines of hardware themselves, at a number of different price points, not just high-end like the Pixel 2.

      • X911ty12

        In reply to shameermulji:

        Apple actually markets their products. That helps.

  15. noelbruns

    There are a few of us that appreciate the smart watch, but want to see it better. I greatly appreciate any time I can use my smartwatch to avoid having to pull out my phone, like for viewing notifications, skipping commercials and music tracks, and even... finding out what time it is. I find it a much appreciated convenience.

  16. cheetahdriver

    I have been quite happy with my Pixel 2XL and the current Android build is enough to make me think about going to it as my primary phone. Then I pull out my Android watch for a second, and remember why it is my backup phone.

  17. nbplopes

    For me, in this context, great user experience don't go well with performance problems and lacking in battery life (not going for a full day). So no, for me, Android Wear does not provide a great user experience besides what subjectively one might consider a better UI.

    This is why I thrust Apple. They have an unique understanding of technology design as they don't differentiate between software and hardware. In terms of design for them there no gap between the metal and the digital.

    Mind you, sometimes they make mistakes. But those design mistakes don't feel that comes out of an agenda other than what they think its the current best solution for a person.

    Unlike Google and other companies. Look at how Google Wear appeared and you will understand this. It was a product rushed out of the door in order to stop down the rumours of what was once called the iWatch. After years and years, finely tech journalist admit its an unbalanced product.

    The same goes for almost anything Google does. It works because Hardware OEM's are banking the lower margins, much like MS did with the PC industry. Meanwhile both Google and MS have much higher margins on what they do. Furthermore, if it does not work well, blame Intel, Qualcomm, or whoever serviced the Hardware, or the parts for their design. They are never to blame and always come out as the good samaritans that bring technology down to more affordable levels. Yet, they have someone else to carry the weight of affordability!!! Its an amazing trick, because when they do something ... well its aspirational or a reference to follow hehehehe. Brilliant.

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