By Akriti Rana and Nimish Dubey
After being a part of leaks and rumours for more than five years, the Pixel Watch is finally official. Google revealed its first smartwatch at its recent Google I/O event. However, the search giant hasn’t really ignored smartwatches in the past. In fact, Google had released smartwatches running its software even before Apple had released the Apple Watch. At the Google I/O 2014, Google had unveiled the Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch, both of which ran its Android Wear OS. Right from that time, rumours about a “Google Smartwatch,” initially believed to be called the “Google Wear Watch” or even the “Nexus Watch” (Google called its phones Nexus at that time), began making the rounds.
From 2014 rumour to 2022 reality
Even though more players entered the smartwatch market and the Apple Watch was released in 2015 — making the smartwatch mainstream — Google stuck to developing software for smartwatches. The company’s acquisition of Fitbit in 2019 led to another speculation frenzy about Google “finally” making smartwatches, but nothing substantial appeared from the brand itself.
That has changed with the Pixel Watch. The wearable represents Google’s first attempt to come to the market with its own smartwatch in terms of both hardware and software. In that regard, it becomes almost like the device that is considered by many to be the benchmark in the smartwatch space — the Apple Watch. In many ways, the path of the Pixel Watch is very similar to that followed by the Pixel — Google started out by collaborating with other brands and then following an acquisition, decided to make its own product.
Google will, however, be hoping that the Pixel Watch fares better than the Pixel phones have. The Pixel phones were designed to showcase the potential of Android at its best and although they have generally received very good reviews, they have not done as well in commercial terms as many had expected. The Pixel Watch comes with the same ambition as the Pixel — to show the world what a Wear OS (as Android Wear is now called) smartwatch should be like. And while not too many details of the device are available, there is plenty to attract attention.
‘Normal’ watch design outside, Fitbit inside
In terms of design, Google seems to have taken a page from the book of Motorola, which designed the Moto 360, one of the most acclaimed Google Wear devices of its time. The Pixel Watch has a round dial, just like a conventional watch, and a crown (like the Apple Watch) which is expected to be rotatable to help deal with navigation and commands. The watch is expected to be made of premium materials, and of course, will run Wear OS. It should also be getting regular and timely updates of the Wear OS, something which has been an issue with earlier Android smartwatches (just like Android smartphones). Google has claimed that the UI will be more fluid than ever before and we are hearing that voice commands will work brilliantly on it, maybe even when the display is switched off, without the user having to touch a button (the watch will be “always listening,” in short). Battery life improvements have also been promised.
The area in which the Pixel Watch is expected to really pull ahead of the competition is fitness. Google had a fitness app called Google Fit, but it had received generally mixed reviews. The Pixel Watch, however, comes with what Google has termed “Fitbit tech,” which means that this is a wearable which will have a lot of Fitbit elements in it. That means much better health-and-fitness tracking and perhaps even better workout monitoring, similar to what we have seen on the Apple Watch. It will also run exclusively on Android. Details like processor and price are not available, although we are hearing of three variants — a regular version, a premium version, and a sports version — with prices that could vary from $299 to $599.
Late to the party?
However promising its specs, design, and performance potential may be, the big question is whether the Pixel Watch will be able to make a place for itself in a smartwatch market that is divided between the Apple Watch and devices from other brands that have their own operating systems. There is already a feeling in some quarters that Google might have taken a bit too long to make its own smartwatch. About five years ago, the smartwatch market was broadly split into two camps — Android Wear devices and Apple Watches. Issues with Android Wear, ranging from battery drain, absence of apps and timely updates, however, made many customers move away from the operating system and instead look at other alternatives.
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As a result, many brands in the smartwatch space today have interfaces based on what is known as RTOS, or real-time operating systems. RTOS-based interfaces tend to be a little on the basic side and have limited app support, but offer excellent battery life and are very good at presenting and analysing fitness-related information and data. Most significantly, RTOS interfaces are also believed to need less powerful hardware than Wear OS, allowing brands to release smartwatches at relatively lower prices. Xiaomi and Realme, for instance, offer smartwatches with large AMOLED displays and a number of fitness trackers at below Rs 10,000. Their lower prices have not only made such devices very popular but have also changed the perception of a smartwatch from being a computer or smartphone on your wrist to something that is more of a fitness tracker. Apps, one of the core components of a classic smartwatch experience, have lost their importance.
Watch out for the competition, Pixel Watch!
It is this competition as well as the Apple Watch that the Pixel Watch has to take on when it gets released later this year. On paper, the Pixel Watch has everything it needs to match the Apple Watch — control over hardware and software, good design, and one of the biggest names in tech backing it. Unlike the Apple Watch, however, it has arrived in a very crowded and diversified market. Way back in 2015, Apple only had to reckon with specialised fitness trackers and a few Android smartwatches.
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The Pixel Watch, on the other hand, has to deal with fitness trackers, Android smartwatches, RTOS smartwatches, as well as watches running on a few other platforms, and then there is the very little matter of the Apple Watch.
Killer feature/app needed!
What makes the Pixel Watch’s task even tougher is that its operating system will be available on other brands’ devices too, most notably from the likes of Samsung and Fossil. While the Apple Watch’s software and hardware are exclusive, the Pixel Watch will not have this advantage, with users having the option to try out watches with a similar UI from other brands. A lot is therefore going to depend on what the Pixel Watch offers that other devices cannot, and just how much those features are valued by users.
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In short, at the cost of sounding cliche, the Pixel Watch needs a killer feature or a killer app, something that goes beyond what other smartwatches can offer. Apple has a first-mover advantage and has spent years creating an ecosystem of apps and features for the Apple Watch. Google is perfectly capable of doing the same. The big question is, does it have that sort of time on hand, given just how competitive the smartwatch space has become? The Pixel Watch has moved from the realms of rumour to reality. It now has to prove it can survive there.