Wear OS in Strange Spot with Devs as Fall Pixel Event Looms

In an effort to increase the quality of its Play Store, Google is now requiring all Wear OS apps to undergo a review process.

Wear OS, the Android variant for wearables such as smartwatches, already has a review process, but it’s curiously voluntary. New Wear OS apps will now be forced into review starting October 1, 2018. Apps currently in the Play Store will have until March 4, 2019 before they’re subject to review.

Google is looking for two things: support for different screen sizes and types, and screenshots. It asks developers to take advantage of the emulator in Android Studio if they need to psuedo-test a wearable app on a virtual device. While Google wants developers to evaluate on a variety of devices, only one screenshot is required. Existing developers are encouraged to do nothing:

For existing Wear apps, we recommend developers keeping their production Wear app screenshots unchanged when uploading new open test or closed test Wear apps.

To test an app, Google recommends manually deploying APKs to beta testers, or leveraging internal testing features in the Google Play console. Furthermore, it promises any screenshots for pre-release apps will not be published to the Play Store until the app is live.

It’s curious timing. This Fall, Google is believed to be releasing an official Pixel watch alongside new Pixel smartphones and improved Pixel buds. Reading the tea leaves, we’ll speculate this Wear OS move from Google might bring both a square and round Pixel smartwatch.

Wear OS Google

Google’s timing here is also curious because the smartwatch industry is sort of a black box. Studies contradict one another, and the largest player in the game, Apple, just won’t say how many smartwatches it sells. We get glimpses at times – Verizon says its ‘others’ category is mostly lead by wearables, and developers hint at Apple Watch’s adoption numbers – but authoritative figures are just not available.

Companies seem to be moving away from wearables, too. Many large firms have recently distanced themselves from Apple Watch, though it could simply be a temporary retreat as they refresh their apps, as Apple is weaving in some fresh new features for Apple Watch that help reduce technical overhead.

Last year, Strategy Analytics published a study suggesting that, while Apple Watch was the clear winner within the wearables category, Wear OS had lost ground even to Samsung’s Tizen. To this, we’ll remember Google says one-third of Wear OS users are iPhone owners (which is why it changed its wearable OS name from ‘Android Wear’ to Wear OS).

Requiring reviews suggests Google is expecting more activity for Wear OS, but legacy data doesn’t support why developers should care. We also can’t say when the Pixel watch may launch, but we’re going to guess sometime in October, which is why Google is demanding new apps undergo reviews at that time. Google-branded hardware brings a ton of attention for Android, so it’ll be interesting to see if a Pixel smartwatch can boost the Wear OS market, especially with the backing of Google Assistant.