Google has given some more details about the upcoming Wear OS update plans. As we reported, Google and Samsung are teaming up to revive the struggling Wear OS. Samsung is ditching Tizen watches and bringing its Exynos SoCs to the Wear OS platform, and Google will start developing Wear OS again after largely ignoring the operating system in recent years.
The post on the official Wear OS forums is titled “What Wear OS 3 means to you,” and it describes what a difficult transition to the new OS will be. First, it’s important to note that the post formally calls the revamped Wear OS “Wear OS 3,” a detail that Google has so far omitted from all its official statements, opting for “united platform,” “the new version.” from Wear OS,” or some other clunky descriptor. It’s version 3! This matches our count; it’s the first major Wear OS update since Wear OS 2 in 2018.
Next, we get a list of devices that will be updated from Wear OS 2 to 3. It won’t take long:
Wear OS devices eligible for upgrade include Mobvoi’s TicWatch Pro 3 GPS, TicWatch Pro 3 Cellular/LTE, TicWatch E3 and Tracking on TicWatch devices, as well as Fossil Group’s next-generation devices launching later this year. .
These are all devices that use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100 SoC. That list is actually each Snapdragon Wear 4100 device, including a Fossil name check for what are believed to be Wear 4100 devices that will be released in the future. It is a clear sign that Google will not support the older Snapdragon Wear 3100 with Wear OS 3.
The Wear 3100 makes up almost all current Wear OS devices, but it’s also terribly slow. Qualcomm has historically been the only viable SoC vendor available to Wear OS makers, but it hasn’t cared much about wearables either, having recently gone six years without improving the performance of its smartphone SoCs. From 2014 to 2020, the company has supplied 28nm quad-core Cortex A7 CPUs under various model numbers. The result was the near-death of Wear OS as battery life and performance issues piled up as competing Apple and Samsung devices got faster every year.
Qualcomm finally broke its streak of shipping chip technology from the 2014 era with the release of the Snapdragon Wear 4100, which was announced in mid-2020. It’s just a low-end to mid-range 12nm, Cortex A53 SoC that’s not at all competitive with Samsung or Apple, but it’s a big improvement. The only remaining Wear OS vendors, however, are fashion brands, and they’re not all that busy shipping the latest technology, so the Wear 4100 has hardly been used. We even launched a Wear 3100 device last week: the Tag Heuer $2,150 Super Mario Watch.
Dropping the Wear 3100 is an understandable decision. The chip is so slow that supporting it would mean limiting much of what Wear OS can do. Once the Qualcomm era is over, Wear OS can expect reliable performance gains with Samsung at the helm of the hardware. The new flagship Wear OS device, the Galaxy Watch 4 (hopefully announced at Samsung’s August 11 event) there are rumors to have a high-end, 5nm Samsung Exynos SoC that will probably be many times faster than the 3100. For what it’s worth, Samsung isn’t updating any of its watches either, because a switch from Tizen to Wear OS will would be too dramatic.
Wear OS 3 sounds dramatically different from version 2
We’re still almost out of information on Wear OS 3, but there are a few tidbits in the upgrade announcement that indicate things will be very different. A line in the announcement explains the requirement for a obligated factory reset for all Wear 4100 devices that upgrade from Wear OS 2 to version 3. Wear OS 3 is apparently so different that user data cannot be transferred and all local data must be erased. We’ve certainly heard Google and Samsung talk about how Wear OS 3 will combine the “best of Wear OS and Tizen”, indicating that even the base OS can be rebuilt from scratch.
Google also vaguely tells 4100 upgraders that “user experience will also be affected in some limited cases”. Is this a reference to the 4100 performance or the app selection and features compared to Wear OS 2? It’s hard to say. Because Wear OS 3 will be so different, Google says it won’t force the upgrade on 4100 users:
We expect that some of you prefer to keep your current Wear OS experience for these reasons. That’s why we’re offering the opt-in system upgrade for eligible devices. We will provide more details ahead of the update so you can make an informed decision. We expect our partners to be able to roll out the system update midway through to the second half of 2022.
The Samsung Watch with Wear OS 3 is expected to ship sometime in August 2021, so “2H 2022” partner time — possibly a year after Samsung’s release — is surprisingly late. Android is typically very good at giving partners early access to code so that (at least those who care) can be ready for launch, but this suggests Samsung is getting a huge head start. Google’s message that upcoming Fossil watches, launching later this year, are “eligible for an upgrade” to Wear OS 3 also suggests we may see Wear OS 2 devices from other companies launching. after Samsung will launch Wear OS 3 next month.
Samsung would always dominate the Wear OS 3 ecosystem because it has exclusive access to high-end Exynos wearables SoCs and doesn’t seem interested in selling them to third parties. However, the evidence is mounting that Samsung will have exclusive access to Wear OS 3 for some time. We’re speculating here, but a team from Google and Samsung undoubtedly involved a lot of negotiation, and “a year of exclusive access to Wear OS 3” would be a nice, round number to include in a deal. However, we don’t really know. There are still so many mysteries surrounding Wear OS, but we should get more answers next month.