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Google’s replace plans for Put on OS Three will go away most present gadgets behind

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Enlarge / A Wear OS watch.

Ron Amadeo

Google has provided a few more details on its upcoming Wear OS update plans. As we’ve reported, Google and Samsung are working together to revive the ailing Wear OS. Samsung is ditching Tizen watches and is bringing its Exynos SoCs to the Wear OS platform, and Google is set to resume Wear OS development after largely ignoring the operating system in recent years.

The post in the official Wear OS forums is entitled “What Wear OS 3 means to you” and describes the rocky transition to the new operating system. First of all, it is important to note that the post officially refers to the revised Wear OS as “Wear OS 3”, a detail that Google has so far left out in all of its official statements and advocates “unified platform”, “the new version of Wear OS ., decided, “or some other clunky description. It’s version 3! This agrees with our count; It’s the first major Wear OS update since Wear OS 2 in 2018.

Next, we get a list of devices that will be upgraded from Wear OS 2 to 3. It does not take long:

Wear OS devices that are eligible for an upgrade include Mobvoi’s TicWatch Pro 3 GPS, TicWatch Pro 3 Cellular / LTE, TicWatch E3 and follow-up devices from TicWatch, as well as the new generation of devices from the Fossil Group, which will be launched later this year comes.

These are all devices that use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100 SoC. This list is virtually every Snapdragon Wear 4100 device, including a Fossil name check for presumably Wear 4100 devices released in the future. It’s a clear sign that Google won’t support the older Snapdragon Wear 3100 with Wear OS 3.

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The Wear 3100 makes up almost all current Wear OS devices, but it is also shockingly slow. Qualcomm has historically been the only viable SoC vendor available to Wear OS manufacturers, but it hasn’t cared much about wearables either and has not improved the performance of its smartphone SoCs for six years recently. From 2014 to 2020, the company shipped 28 nm quad-core Cortex-A7 CPUs under different model numbers. The result was the near-death of Wear OS as battery life and performance issues piled up as competing Apple and Samsung devices got faster every year.

Qualcomm has finally ended its 2014 hit streak of chip technology with the release of the Snapdragon Wear 4100, announced in mid-2020. It’s just a lower to mid-range 12nm Cortex-A53 SoC that can’t keep up with Samsung or Apple at all, but it’s a big improvement. However, the only remaining Wear OS vendors are fashion brands, and they’re not too busy delivering the latest technology, so use of the Wear 4100 has been next to nonexistent. We launched a Wear 3100 device just last week: the Tag Heuer Super Mario watch for $ 2,150.

Dropping the Wear 3100 is an understandable decision. The chip is so slow that helping it would mean limiting much of what Wear OS can do. Once the Qualcomm era is over, Wear OS can expect reliable performance improvements with Samsung at the helm of hardware. Wear OS’s new flagship, the Galaxy Watch 4 (which will hopefully be announced at the Samsung event on August 11th) is said to have a high-end 5nm Samsung Exynos SoC that is likely to be many times faster going to be than the 3100. For what it’s worth, Samsung isn’t updating any of its watches either, as switching from Tizen to Wear OS would be too dramatic.

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Wear OS 3 sounds dramatically different than version 2

We still have next to no information on Wear OS 3, but there are a few tidbits in the upgrade announcement that suggest things will be very different. One line in the announcement contains a mandatory factory reset requirement for all Wear 4100 devices that are upgraded from Wear OS 2 to version 3. Wear OS 3 is apparently so different that user data cannot be transferred and any local data must be wiped off. We’ve certainly heard Google and Samsung talk about how Wear OS 3 will combine the “best of Wear OS and Tizen,” suggesting that even the base OS could be rebuilt.

Google also vaguely tells 4,100 upgraders that “in some limited cases, the user experience will also be impacted”. Is that an indication of the 4100’s performance or the app choices and features compared to Wear OS 2? It’s difficult to say. Since Wear OS 3 will be so different, Google says it won’t force the upgrade for 4100 users:

For these reasons, we anticipate some of you will prefer to keep your current Wear OS experience. We therefore offer the system upgrade on an opt-in basis for eligible devices. We’ll share more details before the update so you can make an informed decision. We assume that our partners will be able to roll out the system update from the middle of the second half of 2022.

The Samsung Watch with Wear OS 3 is expected to be shipped in August 2021, so the partner time of “2H 2022” – possibly a year after Samsung’s publication – is surprisingly late. Android has generally been very good at giving partners early access to code so that (at least those who take care of it) can be ready for launch, but this suggests Samsung has a big head start. News from Google that upcoming Fossil watches launched later this year will be eligible for an upgrade to Wear OS 3 also suggests that Wear OS 2 devices are coming out from other companies after Samsung launched Wear OS 3 next month.

Samsung has always wanted to dominate the Wear OS 3 ecosystem as it has exclusive access to high-end Exynos wearables SoCs and doesn’t seem interested in selling them to anyone. However, evidence is mounting that Samsung will in fact have exclusive access to Wear OS 3 for some time. We’re speculating here, but a team from Google and Samsung have undoubtedly started a lot of negotiations and “one year of exclusive access to Wear OS 3” would be a nice round number to include in a deal. However, we do not know for sure. There are still so many secrets surrounding Wear OS, but we should get more answers next month.

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