Huawei unveiled its latest smartwatch today, the Watch GT. Some might be surprised to learn that it is not running on Wear OS. Instead it is running on a platform that Huawei built in-house called, Lite OS. Why would Huawei go with another platform for its wearables, when Wear OS already exists and has a ton of apps and support available? Well its simple. Huawei says that Wear OS is too limited. The company mentions that you need to stick with a certain processor - which in this case would be the Snapdragon Wear 2100 or Wear 3100 - and there are certain features that must stay on, not to mention the battery life. Huawei believes that the battery life of a smartwatch should last more than a day to two days. That's something that can't really be achieved on Wear OS smartwatches, without making the watch very thick with a larger capacity battery. And finally, Huawei believes that smartwatches should look more like a traditional watch, something it can do better with its own operating system than one from Google - because OEMs are not able to customize Wear OS.
The three things that Huawei is focusing on here, and why it is using its own Lite OS over Wear OS, is battery life, AI algorithms and making the smartwatch look like an actual watch. Two of those things are something that everyone wants. Not everyone is too crazy about artificial intelligence being built into everything, at least not yet. But they are all valid points for using Lite OS, seeing as Wear OS is pretty locked down, especially from a manufacturers' perspective.
Going Proprietary versus using Google's Wear OS
With the Watch GT, Huawei is able to get battery life to last up to a month, before it needs to be recharged. That is not possible on Wear OS without a massive battery, which smartwatches should be getting smaller, and not thicker. They are already pretty large for most wrists, and the biggest complaint about smartwatches is that they are too big, especially for smaller wrists. That was the biggest reason that Huawei decided to go with Lite OS on the Watch GT. Which isn't actually a new operating system for Huawei, it's the OS that has been used on its Talkbands and fitness trackers for the past few years. It has just brought to an actual watch, which did require some work, since it has a larger display, instead of an e-ink display.
While battery life is a big reason for Huawei to go with its own operating system on this watch, another is the artificial intelligence that is part of this watch. With Wear OS, Huawei would not be able to use AI to get a better reading of your heart rate on the Watch GT. And that goes back to the fact that Google does not allow its partners to really do anything to customize Wear OS, unlike Android. With the Watch GT, it is using AI algorithms in the heart rate sensor to get a better idea of where the watch is being worn and how, so that it can improve the accuracy of the heart rate sensor. Of course, it's never going to be 100-percent accurate when it is measuring your heart rate from your wrist - it needs to be closer to your heart to be completely accurate. But it is a rather interesting feature for Huawei to add to its Watch GT. Of course, if this were a Wear OS smartwatch, Huawei would not be able to do that. Giving the company another reason to use its own operating system instead of Google's.
Huawei going to Lite OS means that it can actually use its own chipsets inside the wearable, which is likely going to be better optimized for its hardware, rather than something from Qualcomm that is designed to fit all Wear OS smartwatches. The Watch GT is actually using a dual-chip here, with a slower chip being used for most tasks, and the high-speed chip for when you are actually interacting with it. It's a bit like the big.LITTLE architecture that ARM uses in chipsets that you'll find in smartphones and tablets these days. Where the slower cores are used in standby and for pulling in notifications, while the faster cores are used for actually interacting with the watch. The Snapdragon Wear 3100 doesn't do big.LITTLE, it is a quad-core chipset that also has a co-processor that is slower. It's similar but not quite the same. Again, with Huawei building the chipset and the operating system here, it is much more optimized for Lite OS. And that is still something that you cannot do with Wear OS.
Huawei is Offering this in Addition to Wear OS, Not in place of Wear OS
Despite what many might think, Huawei is not using Lite OS to replace Wear OS, this is a compliment to the Watch 2 that Huawei released a couple of years ago. However, while talking with Huawei, they did not mention that there would be a Wear OS smartwatch coming anytime soon. Now that is not out of the ordinary for a company, as they typically don't speculate on devices that are coming in the future. Part of that is because the device could get scrapped and never launched. But Huawei did say that this is in addition to Wear OS, so that its customers can have the choice between a Wear OS smartwatch and a Lite OS smartwatch from Huawei. Like Samsung, it would not be surprising to see Huawei move over to all Lite OS wearables in the future, depending on how well the Watch GT does for the company.
As mentioned, this does not mean that Huawei is ditching Wear OS, but it does continue to show that Wear OS is kind of lost in where it wants to go. Over the past year or so, we've seen fewer and fewer smartwatches launching with Wear OS (or formerly, Android Wear). Many of the Wear OS smartwatches coming out these days are from fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Fossil, and others. Smartphone makers are ditching Wear OS, and in some cases, they aren't focusing on wearables at all. Samsung is only doing Tizen smartwatches, LG just put out a Wear OS smartwatch, meanwhile Motorola and HTC have not put out a wearable in quite a few years. So this decision by Huawei does show that there are quite a few holes in Wear OS that Google needs to fix. Not just on the consumer side, but on the partner side as well.