It’s About Time We Get a Budget Wear OS Smartwatch

In Short
  • WearOS started in 2014 as Android Wear, and after a decade, we are still dreaming of the day when we get to see a budget Android smartwatch.
  • The main reason why we haven't seen a budget smartwatch is the hardware limitations set forth by Google when building a WearOS device.
  • A budget WearOS watch will be a hit in emerging markets, revive the interest of OEMs and developers, and also increase the adoption of the Android ecosystem.

When the first Android Wear debuted in 2014, I thought that it wouldn’t be long enough until we got some good smartwatches at an affordable budget. This excitement grew as Apple came out with its smartwatch the following year. But fast forward to 2024, and even a decade later, a budget Wear OS watch remains a distant dream. All we are getting are cheap knock-offs with fitness tracking and Bluetooth calling. So I decided to delve into the topic to discuss why it’s about time someone makes a proper Wear OS smartwatch on a budget.

Google’s Wear OS Policies are Too Restrictive

Android Wear or Wear OS is not open source like Android which we use on our smartphones. So manufacturers can’t just pick it up and put it in their watches. It is maintained by Google so to build your own Wear OS watch, you have to sign an agreement with the technology giant. You need to meet their hardware requirements and have them involved throughout the development process.

Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

All of this costs a lot given one of the specific hardware requirements has been to use a Qualcomm chipset. Samsung has been an exception in this case to use their in-house Exynos chipsets, which also powered the first Pixel Watch. I assume these requirements ensure that the platform runs smoothly without any hiccups.

Google, on the other hand, has had years to optimize its platform so that it can function more efficiently on less powerful hardware; albeit it has not managed to do so far. So, Google should first work on improving its platform while also lifting some of its limitations, particularly those tied to hardware. This will allow OEMs to work on the platform, maybe resulting in a Wear OS product at a marginally lower price.

Revive the Interest of Brands and Developers

When Android Wear was first announced, only a limited set of manufacturers were on board with Google’s smartwatch plans. But the interest in building smartwatches was quickly lost on them as the sales figures were not compelling enough.

Motorola who built the infamous Moto 360 which was the first smartwatch with a round dial, also stopped working on the platform due to poor sales.

Lifting the limitations that we discussed above and asking brands to build a budget Wear OS watch can help revive interest in the platform. Yeah, I understand that the margins are too thin when it comes to these wearables. However, they can act as a launchpad for consumers to buy into more expensive options later on.

Plus, as the number of users grows, it could also motivate developers to start building on the platform. I am being a little too optimistic here, but a lower price will indeed result in higher adoption, which will increase demand for more apps.

Budget Wear OS Watches Could Sell Like Hotcakes

In Asian regions like India, people won’t be willing to pay more than $200 (or above Rs 20,000) for a Wear OS smartwatch. That’s because you can get a feature-packed Android smartphone with high-res cameras, AMOLED displays, and even up to 100W charging at that price. This makes it difficult to convince users of such developing regions to be on board with the platform.

But it is not like there isn’t a demand for it. India is one of the biggest smartphone markets in the world, with several brands competing to sell their phones to the masses. Even Pixel devices that were not doing well in the region regained popularity with the cheaper A series. So what’s to say that affordable smartwatches won’t do well?

Plus, there is already a huge market of glorified fitness bands cosplaying as smartwatches in the region. Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, which is more than two years old at this point, still sells well because it gets discounted to a price of about $100 during sale events.

This proves that people want to buy wearable devices but haven’t had a good option to try out.

Finally, It Could Bring the Android Ecosystem to Everyone

Image Courtesy: Google

Like Apple, Google has managed to build a sort of ecosystem of its own with its Pixel lineup of devices that includes smartphones, smartwatches, and tablets. The same is the case with Samsung with its Galaxy series. The thing is that to experience the luxury of the Android ecosystem, you have to empty your pockets till they are dry.

None of the products from the above brands come cheap. While a mere smartwatch won’t give everyone a full-fledged experience of an ecosystem, it could help them get a taste of it. To be honest with you, something about Android feels incomplete, even after years of polish and I guess that’s because it has been limited just to your phone.

Most people won’t get to experience what the platform has to offer on a connected end. A budget Wear OS watch will allow users to dip their toe into the ecosystem that Google has been trying to push to the masses over the years.

Coming to the end, I believe brands like Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Samsung would be happy to jump on the opportunity to put out a competitively priced smartwatch in the market. One that is running on Wear OS. It would be a first experience for a lot of users and would help them stay connected even when they don’t have their phones in hand.

Let’s be honest, in 2024, we shouldn’t have to pull out our phones to do minimal tasks like checking emails, replying to messages, and drafting one. Yes, certain barriers need to be overcome first. But I am sure that a budget Wear OS watch will be a massive hit if done right.

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