Smartwatch sales have surged in recent months, but so far the main company to benefit hasn’t been Google
Google has said it plans to rebrand the Android Wear line of Android OS-powered devices, in a move it said was intended to broaden their appeal beyond those who own Android smartphones.
The software will in future be called Wear OS by Google, the company said.
Google said its name change was timed to coincide with Baselworld, the world’s largest watch and jewellery expo, in Basel next week, but didn’t say whether any new Wear OS developments were on the cards for that show.
Wearables ‘for everyone’
Wearable digital gadgets, such as smartwatches, often rely on connectivity to a smartphone, and in 2015 Google added compatibility between Android Wear and the iOS software that powers iPhones and iPads.
The company said one-third of new Android Wear watch owners also uses an iPhone. The new name “better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all—the people who wear our watches”, Google said in a blog post.
Wear OS is “a wearables operating system for everyone”, it added, saying the name change would be rolled out to devices and phone apps in the coming weeks.
Google is expected to announce its next wearables plans at its I/O developer conference in May. Apple, meanwhile, is thought to be planning to launch a new watchOS version at its Worldwide Developers Conference the following month.
Google said it remains committed to wearables.
“We’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible with wearables and there’s even more exciting work ahead,” the company said.
Apple takes the lead
Apple dominates the smartwatch market, in part due to its strong iPhone market share, according to analysts. Samsung’s Tizen surpassed Android Wear in smartwatch shipments in the first quarter of last year, reaching 19 percent to Android Wear’s 18 percent.
Apple also rose to dominate the broader wearables category for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to figures released by IDC earlier this month. The category includes devices such as fitness trackers that don’t necessarily have watch capabilities.
Apple accounted for 15.3 percent of all wearables shipments last year, followed by Xiaomi, Fitbit and Garmin, IDC said. Fossil, which uses Google’s software, was in fifth place and had 4.3 percent of the market.
According to Fossil’s own figures, it nearly doubled its wearables business last year and accounted for 20 percent of smartwatch shipments in the fourth quarter.
“We expect to see continued growth in the category,” said Fossil chief strategy and digital officer Greg McKelvey in a statement. “Many of our smartwatch customers are iOS users, so we are confident in and eager to see the added benefits that both Android and iOS phone users globally will experience as Wear OS by Google rolls out in 2018.”
Wearables users are increasingly moving from more basic devices that measure health indicators toward more complex smartwatches – but so far the company that has most benefited from this trend is Apple.
A surge in smartwatch shipments late last year meant Apple’s watches carried more than 20 percent of all wearables shipments, IDC said.
“Interest in smartwatches continues to grow,” wrote Ramon Llamas, research director for IDC’s Wearables team, in a research note. “User tastes have become more sophisticated over the past several quarters and Apple pounced on the demand for cellular connectivity and streaming multimedia.”
While 2017’s wearables growth was less than that seen the previous year, Llamas said that was in part caused by some vendors leaving the market, and not by lack of user interest.
He said coming devices are taking the category in new directions, with “devices, features, and services that have helped make wearables more integral in people’s lives”.
“Going forward, the next generation of wearables will make the ones we saw as recently as 2016 look quaint,” Llamas wrote.
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