Of all the Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) vendors one can think of, Xiaomi has never been on the list of Google's wearables platform. That just may change, according to a string of code discovered in a Wear OS app update, as it shows that Xiaomi could have a Wear OS smartwatch (called "Mi Watch") in the works.
Wear OS app update code confirms upcoming Xiaomi Mi Watch
Wear OS app 2.28 shows "Mi Wear" in the code; the same code string had "Baiji Companion" in an earlier update, Wear OS 2.26. Baiji is a dolphin in Chinese mythology that is extinct. So, it's likely that "Baiji" is an internal codename for Xiaomi's smartwatch (Xiaomi is Chinese, so is "Baiji").
The "Mi Wear" is the name of Xiaomi's Wear OS app companion for wearables running on Google's platform. Further digging into the Wear OS app update code shows "Mi Watch" appearing, which gives away the name of Xiaomi's upcoming wearable.
Why Xiaomi? Why Now?
Xiaomi isn't that large of a player in the Android-powered smartphone market. It's considered to be one of a handful of Chinese vendors whose phones sell okay but not as well as say, its larger rival Huawei. Huawei is no longer an Android vendor, but Xiaomi will still have an uphill battle in Android when compared to the likes of Samsung.
However, Xiaomi's weakness in the smartphone market is reversed in the wearables market. The company is number one when it comes to wearable sales globally. In just Q2 2019, Xiaomi shipped 5.9 million wearables, more than Apple (5.1 million), Huawei (4.8 million), Fitbit (3.5 million), and Samsung (3.2 million). The company sold 1.7 million more wearables in Q2 2019 than it did the previous year (Q2 2018, 4.2 million).
Xiaomi's reputation in wearable sales and its impressive market share over mobile giants Apple and Samsung and towering Huawei make it the perfect Android OEM to launch a Wear OS smartwatch now. With its reputation, Google's Wear OS could land on the wrists of more users.
Wear OS: The State Of The Wearables Union
If the Wear OS code is true, Xiaomi will enter the Wear OS wearables platform met by just a few OEMs, Fossil being the predominant one. There are other brands like Movado and Mobvoi, but most of the other Wear OS watches on the market are being sold under the Fossil umbrella, like those from DIESEL, Michael Kors, Puma, and Skagen. Watches coming from electronics brands, such as LG and Motorola, haven't been current for some time.
It's interesting to ponder that Google has quite a number of Android OEMs making smartphones but few participate in the company's wearables platform. The reasons behind the great participation in smartphones but the low participation in smartwatches boil down to two things: 1) profit and 2) control.
Profit or Prophet?
One major reason why Android OEMs have abandoned Wear OS or aren't making devices for it is due to lack of profit: that is, the platform itself isn't making any money. A good look at the top 5 wearables vendors in Q2 2019 from the International Data Corporation (IDC) shows that Xiaomi, the vendor selling the most wearables, isn't part of Wear OS (at least, not yet, if this rumor comes true). Huawei has devices on Wear OS but will now have to find a way to bring them to market solely by way of its own Lite OS, which it uses for its Watch GT fitness tracker (the "watch" part is a huge misnomer).
Apple nor Fitbit are selling Wear OS watches because they're independent platforms with their own operating systems. Samsung, a former "Android Wear OEM" (they were present when the old Android Wear label applied), is no longer making smartwatches for the platform because its Tizen-powered platform is exceeding Wear OS in profit. Samsung's place in the top 5 vendors, even at the bottom (fifth place), is still better than what Fossil and Mobvoi are selling in Wear OS. Samsung jumped ship from Android Wear to Tizen when it "perceived as a prophet" that, looking down the road, Android Wear was an investment with little financial return.
LG, Motorola, and Sony have all abandoned Wear OS for the same reasons. Motorola left long before Google changed the name to "Wear OS." Sony has had little interest in the platform, honestly, but Sony isn't making much money in smartphones, either. LG has partnered with Google for a few smartwatches in Android Wear/now Wear OS, but hasn't made much either.
The lack of profit has made some OEMs "perceive as a prophet" that there's no money in Wear OS. Fossil and Mobvoi may be committed to the platform, but they're not making much, either, which puts Google at risk of losing them both somewhere down the line. Google has canceled two Pixel Watch projects since 2016, no doubt in part because of the lack of profit in its wearables platform. You don't have to be a prophet to see that there's no money in it, which is why OEMs quickly come and quickly go.
Uniformity at the Expense of Variety: The Downside of Google Control
Aside from the profit, there is another, albeit smaller reason, why Android OEMs have ditched Wear OS: Google control. Google control has produced uniformity at the expense of variety. It's said that "variety is the spice of life," but not in Google's Wear OS. Google controls what OEMs place in their devices, telling them what works and what doesn't. This was a big contention point for Samsung, who left Wear OS. Samsung's Tizen platform is different. When one looks at Samsung's smartwatches such as the Gear S3 Frontier/Classic and last year's Galaxy Watch, the rotating bezel is the standout feature that appealed to many smartwatch users. The rotating bezel was not allowed in Wear OS, so Samsung left to pursue its own innovative features.
When a platform hampers down on what OEMs can and cannot do, it's not necessarily a bad thing — but it brings the risk of losing OEMs, too. That is Wear OS's plight currently.
A Xiaomi Turnaround?
Some look at Wear OS and think that the platform is just existing for existence's sake, but perhaps Xiaomi can bring something positive to it. Xiaomi is known for its smartwatches produced by Huami and its fitness trackers, and both of these have come at budget-friendly price points. Perhaps Xiaomi's presence in Wear OS will do the same thing: reduce the price of Wear OS devices so that budget-conscious consumers will want to invest in the platform.
Even with budget-friendly price points, though, independent platforms are offering more features for competitive prices, which means that Xiaomi may not even be able to break through for Wear OS.
And yet, nothing beats a failure but a try. If Xiaomi doesn't try with a Wear OS-based Mi Watch, nothing will happen. If smartwatch OEMs aren't trying, they're dying.