Apple Watch, Google’s Wear OS, Fitbit: Fall’s Big Smartwatch Contenders

A funny thing happened on the way to Apple dominating the wearables market: Other smartwatch manufacturers decided to pick up their game.

Google/Wear OS

For example, Google is now dedicated to boosting the quality of smartwatch apps in the Google Play Store: It recently announced that all new Wear OS apps will go through a mandatory review process. (Wear OS, Google’s longtime Android variant for wearables, already has a review process, but it’s oddly voluntary.) Pundits believe that Google is clamping down because it plans on rolling out a new line of smartwatches this fall, possibly under its premium “Pixel” branding.

Google wants to ensure that developers are supporting Wear OS apps for different screen-sizes and watch types, and recommends manually deploying APKs to beta testers (or leveraging the internal testing features in the Google Play console) in order to test apps. In other words, it wants developers to make the apps goodbefore release—after all, any new Wear OS smartwatches will need to go toe-to-toe against the Apple Watch, with its just-updated hardware and software.

In addition, the latest version of Wear OS has undergone a UX polish. Swiping to the right on the watch-face will load up Google Assistant, Google’s voice-activated digital assistant; swiping left will reveal the “circles” that visualize your steps, heartbeat, and other health metrics; swiping up will pop up any notifications. In addition to refining the platform’s look, Google’s engineers have worked to make the software faster. But will that be enough for Wear OS to make a dent in the Apple Watch’s market share?

Fitbit

For the past year or so, many in the tech industry predicted Fitbit’s imminent demise. Its first smartwatch, the Ionic, attracted mixed reviews, although it earned points for its lengthy battery-life and health-tracking abilities.

Then Fitbit went back to the proverbial drawing board and created the Versa, a sleeker (dare we say, more Apple Watch-like) smartwatch, and that one proved more of a hit. In June, Fitbit announced that it had sold 1 million Versa units, which is pretty good for the wearables category.

Fitbit also has an SDK for developers, leveraging JavaScript, CSS, and SVG (scalable vector graphics). At the moment, it seems that most of the third-party development is focused on watch-faces for the Versa, although that could change if someone comes up with something particularly innovative. In any case, predictions of Fitbit’s imminent demise were way premature.

Apple Watch

It’s no secret that Apple is rolling out a new version of the Apple Watch this fall, complete with a bigger screen. And that means more visual real estate for developers to play with. In addition, watchOS 5 (the next iteration of the Apple Watch OS) features some nifty updates, including more interactive notifications, deeper interaction with Siri (Apple’s voice-activated assistant), and additional APIs for workout apps.

And because Apple likes surprises, it may reveal still more software features throughout the fall. For developers, this means that Apple Watch will offer more than ever. And while that might not convince smaller development shops to devote the resources to wearables—after all, smartphones remain the prime market—it could persuade those on the proverbial fence about smartwatch-app development to give the Apple Watch another look.

Time for Smartwatch Development?

Whether or not any of these platforms attract your interest, it’s clear that smartwatches are enjoying a bit of an upswing at the moment. Whether that translates into radically increased sales over the next few quarters is an open question; but the market has certainly shown it will endure. And Apple won’t be the only company in play.

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