Google's Exploration into the Wearable World

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1Q 2019 | IN-5407

Hints have surfaced recently that Google is looking to expand its currently limited line-up of wearables, including new job postings and a recent acquisition. As the smartwatch market is forecast to expand significantly, Google clearly sees an opportunity to exploit.

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Google Is Likely to Launch a Pixel Smartwatch


Google has remained fairly quiet of late in the wearable devices world and currently only offers a consumer hearables product, the Pixel Buds (which have been fairly successful and seen overall positive reviews), and enterprise smart glasses, the Google Glass Enterprise Edition (which has been more successful than the consumer version, as it has been adopted by a number of companies to improve productivity). The company has focused much of its wearable efforts on its Wear OS platform, which is used by smartwatch companies, such as Fossil, Misfit, Mobvoi, and Tag Heuer, on their own devices. However, in a similar way that Google moved from just offering its Android Operating System (OS) to be used on smartphones from other companies to making its own Nexus and Pixel devices, the company may now be doing the same with smartwatches, as the larger companies—Apple, Samsung, and Huawei—use their own OSs on their recent smartwatches.

What Google May Be Working On


Companies like Apple, Samsung, and now Huawei are continuously offering wearable devices that run on their own OSs, the Android OS has been in need of a larger flagship smartwatch to drive volume on the platform, potentially a Google Pixel Watch, although the name has not yet been confirmed. There was much speculation about a potential device from Google when it announced the change of name from Android Wear to Wear OS, but so far, nothing has come to light, with the company stating at the time of the name change that a watch was not coming soon (but did not say that it was out of the question in the future).

Since then, Google has remained quiet on what it may be working on, but there have been several hints that a new line of wearables may now be in the making. The company has recently listed a job for a Vice President of Hardware Engineering Wearables in its headquarters in Mountain View, California, asking for someone to lead a team in developing an entire portfolio of wearables with a range of uses, features, and price points. The successful applicant will be responsible for designing, developing, and shipping all of Google’s multiple next-generation wearables, suggesting that the company is hoping to develop a wide range of devices with different form factors. Applicants require 15 years of development experience, 12 years of designing and production experience, and must have been involved with products that ship hundreds of millions of units worldwide.

Alongside this, Google is also asking for a Wearables Design Manager for Consumer Hardware that would work with colleagues to create forward-looking, iconic products for consumers. Applicants must have 15 years of consumer product development experience and 5 years of design management experience. Google is asking for a portfolio of product designs, particularly focusing on wearables, and goes on to explain that the successful applicant will represent the wearables design team in internal and external meetings and presentations.

While this news does not mean that a new wearable is imminent, it does imply that Google is actively looking to expand its rather small wearable offerings. It does not outline the types of device that may be developed, but with its strong efforts in the smartwatch OS and its mentioning of multiple different devices, it is likely that the company will at least explore the area.

In addition to these job listings, Google has also acquired US$40 million worth of unknown smartwatch technology assets from Fossil, a company very focused on the smartwatch area. This led to rumors about Google buying the entire watch development team, but Fossil has made it clear that it will continue to run its own smartwatch business with its 200 Research and Development (R&D) employees. At the time of the announcement in January 2019, Google stated that this acquisition demonstrated the company’s commitment to the wearables market by enabling a diverse range of smartwatches for the evolving needs of the consumer. Fossil also confirmed that the assets included something that the company acquired from Misfit that has yet to reach the market, but would benefit from Google’s input. This, alongside the new job listings, suggests that Google is actively looking to develop smartwatches in particular.

How This Will Fit in with the Smartwatch Market


Despite this activity from Google in the wearables market, it is unlikely that we will see anything from the company in terms of new wearables any time soon, perhaps for up to two to three years. The job listings suggest that new devices will be developed by the new team, which will likely take some time to set up, and the acquisition of the technology assets has only recently been completed, making it unlikely that any devices will be in the market soon. However, it is increasingly likely that we will see a range of wearables, or at least smartwatches, from a company that has recently remained relatively quiet in the area, choosing to focus on its wearable OS, rather than a smartwatch device. With the smartwatch market currently expected to grow from 53 million in 2019 to 99 million in 2023, according to ABI Research’s latest forecast, there is clearly a large opportunity for Google to exploit. Again, perhaps the company has decided that the time is ripe for it to stop relying on other vendors to fulfill the promise of its platform and showcase what can be achieved by building and designing its own wearables, much as it did with smartphones and the Android OS. Indeed, with many key Android smartphone partners now using their own OSs in smartwatches, which along with Apple’s watchOS, has led to a quite fragmented market, it does make sense for Google to pursue this strategy.

If Google does develop a smartwatch, or a range of smartwatches, it needs to be fully aware of what consumers are demanding from today’s devices. Different form factors, such as a range of sizes, hybrid watches, and the use of interchangeable straps, would allow the company to appeal to a wide range of consumers and price points. Adding waterproofing would ensure that the use case extends to most sports enthusiasts, particularly those who enjoy swimming. High specs, particularly processing power, storage, battery life, and cellular connectivity, would ensure that the device(s) can rival counterparts in the market. The addition of health tracking features would also cater to the increasing number of consumers looking to gain insight into their general health.

Other smartwatch manufacturers that already have a strong base of smartwatches should take advantage of this recent hype by Google in the market, offering new devices with new technologies to consumers. Many are expected to do so very soon. For example, Samsung is expected to update its smartwatch offering in its upcoming Unpacked event, which will focus on its smartphone offering, including its foldable phone, but will also refresh its wearables. This will particularly include new smartwatches, such as the rumored Tizen OS-based Galaxy Sport that will be aimed at outdoor enthusiasts due to its potential water resistance, which will have features that include heart rate tracking, auto-detection of exercises, a Global Positioning System (GPS), and removal of the rotating bezel.

Sony is also attempting to shake up the smartwatch market, with the company unveiling a smart watchstrap that will allow consumers to turn their existing watch into a smartwatch. The Sony Wena straps will offer contactless payments, fitness tracking capabilities, and smartphone notifications via a small screen on the strap. The straps are 20 Millimeters (mm), have the ability to fit 18, 20, or 22 mm faces, and cost from US$450 to US$510. Sony has developed this device to cater to the large market of consumers that have been resistant to the smartwatch market, being unwilling to give up their existing watches.

There are also likely to be some announcements at Mobile World Congress 2019 covering the smartwatch and wider wearables market. Specifically, the new Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor is likely to feature in a greater number of smartwatches launched at the show. Most of the current crop of smartwatches using the Wear 3100 processor are ranged in the more expensive, luxury items, making them out of reach for the majority of consumers. Companies like Huawei and LG may announce new devices at the show that will run on the processor, which is able to offer an extended battery life, higher processing capabilities, and personalized experiences that allow a device to prioritize certain features. These devices will be offered at a lower price point than previous luxury smartwatches, making them more available to a wider range of consumers.