For Google and their Android Wear partners, the smartwatch market has not been the kindest it could have been over the past couple of years. We saw LG, Samsung and Motorola get in on the action early on, and while Samsung has abandoned Android Wear altogether, it looks like the rest of the big Android partners have put their plans “on pause” when it comes to Android Wear. Earlier this week, we heard that there weren’t going to be any releases from Motorola, Huawei or LG for the rest of 2016. This could be a big blow to Android Wear overall, or it could be the sing of a different approach to the one Google and friends have taken to smartphones in the past.
When Android Wear first launched back in 2014, it was launched with the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live. Neither of these were great starts for the platform, despite some decent core functionality, the hardware was not pretty and Samsung clearly has better things to do with their considerable wearable talent. Later on we saw Motorola launch the Moto 360 and LG launch the stunning G Watch R. Fast forward to 2015 and we saw a new Moto 360, one that was vastly-improved and had a hell of a lot more to offer customer, as well as the new LG Watch Urbane and a new contender; Huawei. It was definitely a good year for smartwatches running Android Wear, with a myriad of new hardware partners – such as Fossil and even TAG Heuer – as well as better options for the original partners. In 2016 however, some of the best Android Wear watches haven’t been updated in over a year, and while all of these devices from last year should get the upgrade to Android Wear 2.0, it’s the hardware that often gets people interested in an early platform like Android Wear.
The Huawei Watch has been for months our top pick in our monthly round-up, and for good reason. Not only does it come in a number of different case and strap combinations, but its fit and finish is excellent for a watch, smart or otherwise. The Chinese firm also had the foresight to put in a speaker, which allowed them to be first on the scene with the call taking feature, without having to release new hardware. This killer-watch however, was announced back during Mobile World Congress 2015, and while it didn’t launch until the Fall of last year, it’s beginning to look a little long in the tooth. The same can be said of LG and Motorola’s offerings as well, with the two early-adopters still selling watches that are – for the most part – based on designs and ideas from as early as 2014.
This all seems like a long time in the world of tech, but is the world of wearables different? Do firms like these really need to put out a new smartwatch each and every year? Well, Samsung doesn’t need to put out a new smartphone every year, and yet they launch two flagship lines a year, with a myriad of other options available, too. This is because hardware is often the key to get people talking, to get people thinking about your ecosystem and your platform as a whole. New hardware releases get the stores like Best Buy pushing your product, and shiny new pieces of hardware always looks better on shelves than boxes gathering dust. There’s also the threat of competition for these names as well, with Samsung’s Gear S2 and now the Gear S3 working with the majority of Android smartphones out there, and the new Apple Watch offering what many felt was lacking with the first version. Few brands can keep up with Samsung in the Android world, but when you’re LG or Huawei selling a year-old watch to a public that has seen countless ads for the Gear S3, it’s likely you’re going to be overlooked.
New hardware for Android Wear is coming of course, the Nixon Mission is now up for pre-order, and there’s new watches from both Fossil and Michael Kors as well. Ultimately however, these are brands that have watch businesses themselves to think of, and from a purist’s standpoint, these smartwatches are not going to help sales overall. Huawei, LG and Motorola are arguably the three biggest names in Android Wear that smartphone users will recognize, these are names that will make the most noise in a world where Android Wear is seen as more of a curiosity than anything else. To cut a long story short, a Golden Quarter with no new shininess from these big names, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be all that golden for Android Wear.