Google and Samsung see themselves as tech titans, and they often are. But in smartwatches, they just aren’t. There, Apple reigns supreme. Competing efforts have been varying degrees of dismal. That’s why the Wear OS and Tizen team-up is so interesting – and misunderstood.
The way Google would explain it, this is an amazing occurrence that consumers will sing songs about for decades, possibly to YouTube Music backing tracks blaring from their wrists (although only from later this year – because that service isn’t yet on Wear).
The press bumf warbles about the dynamic duo “bringing the best of Wear and Tizen into a single unified platform” that will “take the strengths of each and combine them” into a greater whole. Tech pundits froth this will be a boon for developers and consumers alike – and that, naturally, Apple is now doomed.
This feels delusional on all fronts. Today, Apple has the lion’s share of the smartwatch market and most of the profits. It has the ecosystem and the apps. It has loyalty rivals would die for. Moreover, you get the feeling Apple actually cares about this stuff. From the exec level down, Apple enthuses about wearables and health at every available opportunity.
Once it got over Jony Ive’s infatuation with bling, Apple Watch gained razor-sharp focus in efficiency and fitness. For six years, it has been increasingly integrated into Apple’s wider ecosystem. It’s made each iteration of its Watch hardware measurably better than the last.
But where Apple plays chess, Google appears to swim in piles of cash, earned from advertising and Google Cloud, and occasionally lobs chunks of tech at the wall to see what sticks. It doesn’t seem to care deeply about much at all, be that the lumbering Google Play, its own smartphones that scream “What is the point of us? Why doesn’t father care?”, Android or even Wear. In fact, especially Wear.
Of late, that platform felt like yet another thing Google had tired of – abandoned rather than something that could square up to Apple Watch. Meanwhile, Tizen never gained the traction it needed to thrive. Developers making little enough on Android were hardly keen to rework products for a separate platform with fewer users.
So why team up? Why smash together two also-rans in a market that too often feels single-player, or at least single-winner? For a start, Apple’s rivals have no choice. It’s not like Apple CEO Tim Cook’s going to leap on stage at WWDC 2021 and announce a licensing program for watchOS and Apple’s other platforms. Apple is a closed shop. Everyone else must do their own thing.
Beyond that, there are clear benefits to consumers and developers alike. Unlike Tizen, Wear is built atop Android, which brings familiarity to and reduces friction for app makers. Less fragmentation can strengthen a market, while making the broader experience more seamless – something anyone who’s tried to pair a Tizen device with a non-Samsung phone will doubtless appreciate.
But care and focus alone isn’t enough. Generic statements about faster app launches and optimisation might appeal to geeks, but won’t push this joint effort forward.
Apple is so far ahead, Google and Samsung can’t rely on the status quo to claw ground back. ‘Be less rubbish’ won’t win the race. Talking about Fitbit (another also-ran) and its “years of health expertise” excites no-one.
And the challenge is even larger than you might think. People as a rule don’t buy much on Android, making it tough to convince developers to spend time and money making cool new apps and experiences. Getting people to switch from Apple Watch is a huge ask, because you’re talking not about a wearable alone but an entire ecosystem. The whole thing has to be good. The devices, the apps, the software, the support, all of it.