Wear OS Is Growing Again, and Google Has Samsung to Thank

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Google was the first big tech firm to invest in the modern smartwatch when it worked with LG, Motorola, and Samsung to release Android Wear devices in 2014. It would be another year until the Apple Watch debuted, and it was all downhill for Android Wear after that. The branding change to Wear OS didn’t help, but partnering with Samsung did. This fall, Samsung launched the Galaxy Watch4 line, its first smartwatches running Android since 2014. Last summer, Wear OS was languishing at four percent of smartwatch shipments, and now it’s at 17 percent, according to Counterpoint Research. 

Samsung’s history with Android-powered watches actually extends further back than Wear OS. Before Google decided how an Android-powered watch should work, Samsung made its own version of Android to run on the Galaxy Gear. It later updated that watch to the Tizen OS, which almost all of Samsung’s smartwatches have used instead of Android. There was, of course, the Gear Live, one of Google’s Android Wear launch devices. However, it was all-in with Tizen after that. 

By coming back to Wear OS, Samsung gained access to a much larger collection of software. Even with years of mismanagement from Google, the Play Store has much more software for smartwatches than Samsung could ever collect in the Tizen store. Google, meanwhile, gets Wear OS on hardware that Samsung will market harder than any other OEM. And it’s working. 

In the third quarter of 2021, Wear OS shipments reached 17 percent of all smartwatches. That’s a strong number two finish behind Apple Watch OS at 22 percent. It’s also a huge boost over the four percent number of the previous two quarters. Samsung has reason to celebrate, too. The move to Wear OS has helped to increase Samsung’s share of the market. It has overtaken Huawei this year, rising to the number two brand after Apple. 

Apple’s share of the market has dropped 10 percent over the past year, but the reason for that is clear. Apple was unable to launch its Series 7 watch alongside the new iPhones. The delayed device launched in the fourth quarter, so those numbers are not included in the report. It’s likely Apple’s new watch will give it a boost in the fourth quarter, and that could make Samsung’s year-end totals less impressive. 

Still, this is a turn-around for Wear OS, which is something Google desperately needed. Now it has to capitalize on it. Hopefully, Google doesn’t squander its second chance to be prominent in wearables like it did the first time.

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