Will Google’s Rumored Smartwatch Pull Developers to Wear OS?

Having issued a branded smartphone line (the generally well-reviewed Pixel), Google is reportedly moving onto the next stage: A Google-branded smartwatch.

That “Pixel smartwatch” may arrive this fall, according to CNet and other sources. Evan Blass, a VentureBeat reporter known for breaking stories on devices, suggested that the Pixel watch would debut alongside second-generation Pixel Buds and two new Pixel phones (the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL).

If a smartwatch is indeed in development, it will almost certainly run Wear OS, a version of Android modified for wearables. In addition to standard-issue health tracking and notifications, Wear OS is a conduit for the voice-activated Google Assistant, which can offer up everything from weather updates to calendar events.

A Pixel smartwatch would go head-to-head against the next iteration of the Apple Watch, which will reportedly make its debut during the same fall timeframe. The latest Apple Watch will run WatchOS 5, which offers new features such as podcast support and a “walkie-talkie mode.”

According to analytics firm Canalys, Apple shipped an estimated 3.5 million watches during the second quarter of 2018, a year-over-year increase of 30 percent. Despite that increase, Apple saw its slice of the smartwatch market fall from 43 percent to 34 percent during that same 12-month period, largely because Fitbit and other smartwatch vendors have put up strong competition.

“Amid further competition from Samsung and Google, rumored to be launching Galaxy and Pixel watches respectively, Apple needs to work out how to drive refreshes in markets such as the US, where its penetration into the existing iPhone installed base has started to level off,” Canalys research analyst Vincent Thielke wrote in a research note accompanying the data.

So a Pixel smartwatch would face some robust rivalry from increasingly strong competitors. And while Google is no stranger to uphill battles—it’s gamely pushed its Google Home into a smart-speaker market dominated by Amazon’s Alexa—it will still need to spend considerable resources in order to establish any kind of presence.

If Google is willing to spend that money, it could prove good news to the developers who have thought about building apps for Wear OS. Google already has substantial documentation for Wear OS apps, including videos and tutorials; but can it grow an ecosystem robust enough to convince developers to jump in? Time will tell.

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