We’ve been waiting over five years now for Google to finally put its name on a smartwatch, to back the Wear OS platform that’s often felt neglected. Now, all signs point to the Pixel Watch making its debut very soon. There’s a lot of excitement, but the Pixel Watch will never live up to the hype.
Google isn’t great at first-gen products
Here’s the biggest thing that should have an impact on Pixel Watch hype — Google kinda sucks at first-gen hardware. There are exceptions to the rule, like the company’s entire lineup of smart speakers and their various form factors, but it seems everything else has had trouble for the first generation.
Examples? Back before Google’s revamped hardware vision, the original Chromebook Pixel launched to wide acclaim for its performance and design, but it had a screen that suffered from burn-in in mere seconds, on a laptop that cost over $1,200!
Fast-forward to this modern era of Google hardware, and there are still plenty of examples to pull from. The original Pixel was a truly wonderful phone, but it lagged behind the competition on design and features and developed some not-very-minor flaws over time. Customer service was also not very good at all back then.
Another more recent example would be the latest batch of Nest cameras, which are the first devices fully under Google’s roof. The new Nest Camera has a very mediocre sensor and the software backing it up is far from finished. The battery-powered Nest Doorbell shares many of the same software problems, and also caught a lot of flak for how it handles weather, and the lack of communication regarding those problems.
What might go wrong with the Pixel Watch? Software bugs are pretty much a certainty, minor as they may be. There’s also a strong chance battery life could be rough, considering this watch is expected to be around the same size as Samsung’s smaller Galaxy Watch 4, a device we found had the bare minimum of acceptable endurance. Fitbit integration is also happening for the first time, and the app situation backing that up seems very confusing from every viewpoint.
There’s also the fact that Google is doing smartwatches for the first time here. What if there’s only one size? What if the band connectors have problems? Plus, that bulbous display seems like an absolute magnet for damage.
Google doesn’t have its own experience to pull from to make a more complete product. Sure, the company may remember the failures of its Wear OS partners in the past, and can look to what’s worked for Apple and Samsung as the market leaders. But still, Google tends to learn from its mistakes. The Pixel 2 XL was scrutinized for a terrible display. The Pixel 3 fixed it. The Pixel 4 was largely disregarded due to horrible battery life. The Pixel 5 had some of the best endurance for its time.
With a smartwatch, Google doesn’t have the ability to look back at its own mistakes, and that means growing pains. While we’ve already seen a lot of positives just from these early hardware leaks, they don’t tell us anything about what it will be like to actually wear a Pixel Watch daily. Plus, we still have countless questions about what Google will deliver on the software front, where there are even more opportunities to disappoint fans.
The Pixel Watch is a first-generation product, but you can bet a whole lot of people are going to forget that when the release finally comes. You should remember it, though, when you consider paying for it.
Samsung set a pretty high bar
Adding to Google’s uphill battle with Pixel Watch hype is the direct competition. Google’s partner in this newfound Wear OS rebirth is Samsung, which has been setting the bar for Wear OS for the past year with its Galaxy Watch 4 series. While that product wasn’t perfect, it’s been widely regarded as an excellent smartwatch that has been the first true rival to the Apple Watch in the Android ecosystem.
Inevitably, the Pixel Watch won’t live up to the shadow cast by the Galaxy Watch 4.
A huge part of that just comes down to Samsung’s experience. Samsung has been making smartwatches for seven years at this point, and all of that experience and all of the company’s mistakes have been funneled into creating the Watch 4. While it was Samsung’s first Wear OS watch since 2015, it had all of the hardware and software lessons that Tizen taught, and it was also Samsung’s admission that Tizen was no longer the right path for smartwatches.
The unbearable weight of constant scrutiny
More than virtually any other product in the tech world, Google’s hardware faces constant scrutiny. Every little bug ends up on the front page of countless sites and blows up on social media, sometimes regardless of how long it goes on for or how many people it actually affects. That’s not to say Google doesn’t make mistakes on Pixel software — in some cases, it’s quite ridiculous what bugs and mistakes slip through and go unfixed for months, but Google’s mistakes seem to always see more scrutiny than any other brand.
It’s a guarantee that the Pixel Watch will sit in the same boat. Whether it’s an issue with disconnecting from your phone, taking a few extra seconds to activate the screen, or any other hypothetical scenario, the Pixel Watch will have bugs, and those bugs will generate high levels of scrutiny.
Already, the Pixel Watch is facing plenty of backlash due to the size of its bezels. That’s before we’ve even seen the screen turning on for the first time, and those bezels look to be roughly the same size as that of the Galaxy Watch 4. There’s also the band situation, which is using a proprietary system similar to Fitbit. Plenty of people already seem to against that.
That just goes to prove the point. It doesn’t matter what Google chooses to do on the Pixel Watch, it’s always going to be the opposite of what a considerable portion of the existing audience wants. You just can’t please everyone. It doesn’t matter what the final product is, it’s not going to live up to the vision many have laid out for it.
What does the Pixel Watch need to get right?
In the end, it’s all going to boil down to what the Pixel Watch gets right, and its ability to ride the hype to launching a product people like. What does that entail?
First and foremost, Google needs to get the health side of things right. Wear OS has essentially been pushed to the state it lives in today in part because of its poor health support. Fitbit will be key here, and it seems Google is leaning on that purchase quite heavily. On top of that, performance will also be key. Qualcomm’s refusal to launch a modern smartwatch chip severely hurt the ability for Wear OS to perform as it should, so Google needs to get this aspect right, something that seems to be the case given the expected Exynos chip inside.
Other aspects that need to be done well include battery life, which at least needs to compare to the Galaxy Watch 4, and charging, which seems to be wireless and similar to Qi, based on the leaks we’ve seen so far. Of course, I’d personally rather see a faster pin system similar to what Fossil uses on its Gen 6 lineup, but I’m sure it’ll work out alright in the end.
All of the hype surrounding the Pixel Watch is earned, because it’s a product that’s been years in the making and comes on the back of major investment from Google. There are a lot of reasons to get excited. But it’s probably a good idea to go in with low expectations. Mistakes will be made. Problems will surface. Reddit threads will be fought. But ultimately, the hype doesn’t matter. The product does. Will the product be perfect? Absolutely not. But Google has taken the steps to do the best it can on this first showing.
Expect disappointment, and you’ll never be disappointed. That’s how I’ll be preparing for this launch.
More on Pixel Watch:
- Here’s somebody actually wearing the Pixel Watch and Google’s 20mm band [Gallery]
- Is it actually a bad thing for the Pixel Watch to use proprietary bands?
- Pixel Watch appears to have the same health sensors as Fitbit Charge 5
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