Google’s Pixel event has come and gone. With it, Google introduced its first solely self-branded smartphone, claiming that the Pixel and Pixel XL bring the very best that Google has to offer — for the moment, at least — in both hardware and software. It’s a refreshing move from a company that has traditionally only sold hardware built in partnership with OEMs, and it’s finally a sign that Google wants to take a serious top-to-bottom design approach with its future products.
But what about its other product lines? Google replicated the Android strategy with Android Wear a couple of years ago, and in that case the company has yet to release any Android Wear hardware that has its name on it. The company never even did a “Nexus” Android Wear device to give OEMs an idea of what Android Wear would look like if Google did it themselves. That’s about to change according to recent reports, perhaps as soon as the first quarter of next year…
With the Pixel, it’s clear now that Google is moving an entirely new direction with hardware. Under Rick Osterloh, Google now has a proper hardware division and with that comes a proper hardware vision. With the Pixel, Google wanted to move beyond the prototypical Nexus devices (whose primary goal from the beginning was just to show off what the company expected from Android OEMs), and offer up something of its own. Google boldly claims the Pixel as its own, despite it being manufactured by HTC (and, let’s be honest, bearing resemblance to another one of HTC’s phones).
And this same thing is about to happen with Android Wear. Google never made a Nexus Android Wear watch in partnership with an OEM, and that’s probably at least in part because it was working on a much bigger plan. The forthcoming refresh of its Android Wear OS will come in tandem (at some point early next year, according to reports), with a couple brand new solely-Google-branded smartwatches. And much like the Pixel, I think that these forthcoming watches will be positioned in the market as competitors to the smartwatches from Google’s competitors and its partners — like the Apple Watch and the Gear.
The same anonymous tipster that we’ve been hearing from for a while (again, if you’re reading this, feel free to send us an anonymous encrypted email, we’d love to talk), has corroborated some other details we’ve heard and added some tidbits of their own. Said tipster has told us that Android Wear is getting Assistant built-in, says 2.0 is set for release in Q1 2017, and also adds that Google is ditching the “Android” in “Android Wear” — just “Wear”. I’m not sure if this refers to the watches themselves or the Android Wear OS, but it’s interesting even if nothing more than food for thought.
What if Google is moving away from the Android brand in the longer term? In fact, as I found out at the event, when you boot up the Pixel and Pixel XL, there’s no reference at all to Android anymore. All you get is a “Google” and a big ol’ G logo. As far as I could tell, the only living references to Android on the Pixel are the Android Pay app, and the Android version number deep in the Settings app. And also of note, the leaked Pixel packaging shows no reference to Android — anywhere. Both the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P had the Android logo right on the back of the box. It’s even more interesting when you consider that “Powered by Android” is something that Google requires OEMs to add to boot screens.
All of this might seem conspiratorial and crazy if we didn’t have a rumored successor to Android on the horizon. Andromeda, which is purportedly — at the very least — a major fork of Android made to run on phones, laptops, and convertibles, seems to be right around the corner if leaks are to be believed. I’m not going to try to guess at the intricacies of how Google plans to give its Android OEMs access to this new OS — much less how the company plans to brand it when it goes public — but my point is that perhaps the seeming disappearance of Android in Google’s own branding isn’t a coincidence.
And I think — and perhaps it’s obvious — that Android Wear is just the next brand to be Google-ified. We didn’t see much reference to Android at Google’s 10/4 event, and I personally don’t think we’ll see much reference to Android with Google’s Android Wear announcement set for sometime in Q1 of 2017. Perhaps you’ll be able to find the name “Android Wear” deep in the settings app, but I think Google would rather position these watches like the Pixel. It’s not Android Assistant, Android VR, or Android Home, or Android Photos. There’s hardly any mention of Android anywhere on or around the Pixel.
Maybe Android isn’t going anywhere, but at the very least, Google’s own watches probably won’t show any sign of being branded as such. I would bet that all you’ll find is Google branding, just like the Pixel.