At this year’s Google I/O, Google’s smartwatches aren’t invisible like Daydream VR, but they’re definitely laying low. One domed demo space has a number of Wear OS watches running the latest software feature, Tiles, which I had a chance to finally use. But that’s not what things were like last year.
A year ago, Google seemed to have big plans for Wear OS. Software updates brought a new, improved interface. New Qualcomm processors promised better performance and sports modes. A wave of new watches started to appear.
There have been 21 Wear OS watches from 17 brands over the last year, which is a lot. Many of the watch designs look nice. But Wear OS hasn’t taken a giant leap into new territories. The improved OS is better, and Tiles looks useful, but it’s not a surprising addition. In fact, if you’ve ever seen a Samsung Galaxy Watch, it’s downright familiar.
Tiles feel like a new type of app
Tiles are like quick-glance info panels you can swipe through from the main watch face. They’re more informative than little complications on watch faces, but lighter and easier to launch than apps. The Samsung Galaxy Watch has a ton of these types of swipeable panels, but Google’s only launching seven for now.
They’re all for Google’s own apps and services. There are fitness Tiles for heart rate, headline summaries for news, one with weather info and a timer. Tiles can be re-ordered, added or removed.
But developers can’t make their own Tiles, yet. Google’s Wear OS executives say that’s likely coming next, after Google releases more Tiles this year. But it’s strange, at a developer conference, for a feature to be shown that developers can’t do anything with.
Tiles could be helpful for dedicated fitness apps, like ones that tap into specific sets of data such as blood pressure, weight and so on. The included sets of Tile functions at the moment, however, have limits.
It’s interesting that Tiles can work like apps, at least. The timer Tile is a full timer.
Will Tiles mean a new type of watch design?
I couldn’t help wonder if Tiles and their quick-access feel would mean standard apps would diminish. Or could this mean a possible wave of smaller, ‘lighter’ wearables that wouldn’t feel so big and… well, watch-like. Google seems excited about Tiles. I think they’re better to have than not have.
But while the Apple Watch keeps getting better, Samsung and Fitbit keep aggressively lowering prices. Will Google change up its Wear OS strategy to compete?
What about the Pixel Watch?
We still haven’t heard a thing about Google’s own rumored watch, one that would be part of its own Pixel brand of products. Maybe something is still in the works, but right now things seem awfully quiet for Wear OS.
Tiles are nice, but more useful fitness tracking advances, coaching and extra assistant functions would be even nicer. Those features still aren’t here.