Sunday Editorial: Google’s failure at Android Wear proves it needs Samsung, and why Samsung might not need Google anymore

Google made a huge splash last week with a wide range of new releases. With the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, Google Home Mini, Google Home Max, Pixelbook and Clips camera, Google left almost no stone unturned, save for one, Android Wear. Google didn’t make any announcements about it at last week’s Pixel 2 event and even went one step further. It completely removed all Android Wear devices from the Google Store.

What happened to Android Wear?

Back in February, Google released two Android Wear 2.0 devices: the LG Watch Sport with LTE, and the LG Watch Style. The Sport promised to take advantage of automatic exercise detection, stream wireless music, keep track of your workouts with GPS and allow users to leave their phones at home with built-in LTE. The Style was a slimmed down version of the beefy Sport, with far fewer features but still could keep users up to date with notifications while being easier on the wallet. Both watches were built by LG but were touted as Google’s Android Wear 2.0 devices and were even featured in the Google Store. The Sport failed to gain popularity with its users to its poor battery life and incredibly massive size. It was a great concept that was executed poorly. The Style proved to be to useless for its almost $300 price tag.

There have been countless third-party companies who have built Android Wear smartwatches, but very few have had any major success in breaking ground in that area. And if anyone has made a decent amount of success in Android Wear, it has been from companies that are more fashion forward than tech savvy. One of the most recognizable companies with a large offering in Android Wear is Fossil. It has 13 versions of smartwatches on its online store, whereas Android household names like HTC, Sony and LG have nothing close to that combined. I’d even argue that the $1500 Tag Heuer Connected smartwatch gets much more attention than LG’s offerings as well. Regardless, the failure of Android Wear 2.0 falls on Google. Without great underlying software, users will complain of a lack of usefulness, especially if battery life is poor.

Tizen smartwatches

Google’s failure in Android Wear has proven that it needs Samsung more than all others. Samsung decided to forgo using Android Wear on its wearables at inception, and instead went with its own Tizen platform to power its smart wearables. Samsung has been developing smartwatches well before Google and Apple and its top seller, the Gear S3 and S3 Frontier are some of the best-selling wearables outside of Apple. Samsung also developed slimmed down smartwatches: the Gear Fit2 and Gear Fit2 Pro. All of Samsung’s wearables connect to its smartphones seamlessly and offer a wide range of features from heart rate tracking, notification alerts, activity tracking, GPS and LTE data connections. All in all they’re all reviewed well and have superior battery life to Android Wear devices. Samsung has proven it knows how to build smartwatches, even without Google’s help.

Is Android Wear the canary in a coal mine?

With Samsung deciding not to use Android Wear on its smartwatches and Google’s quiet removal of Android Wear devices in its Google Store, it leaves the question: Can Android survive without Samsung? It also leaves another question: Can Samsung mobile survive without Android?

While there are quite a few great manufacturers at Android smartphones, no company comes close to Samsung’s push in innovation in that arena. Samsung pushes Android devices further than all other manufacturers. It makes waterproof phones that look and feel incredible. It is the first major manufacturer to use high-end processors from Qualcomm while its own processors for international use have proven to be even faster than Qualcomm’s best. Samsung is the display leader which even Apple has to rely on. iPhones not only use internal memory from Samsung, but the new iPhone X bezel free display comes from the company as well.

Samsung also builds the most used premium Android smartphones, with its Galaxy S and Note lines. Sure there are quite a few Chinese companies making waves in taking Android market share: Huawei and Xiaomi come to mind, but they mainly poach from LG, HTC, Sony and Motorola which have fallen off the map. Those Chinese companies also don’t come anywhere near Samsung’s profit margins on Android devices.

Samsung smartphones run a modified version of Android called TouchWiz. If you read across all reviews, TouchWiz might be in its best state ever. It runs smooth and offers more features than ever and Samsung has even made tech geeks happy by quietly updating its phones faster than all non-Google OEMs. TouchWiz is also very different from almost stock Android that is run on the Pixel 2. It’s so different that non techies would see two different operating systems if they used the Pixel 2 and a Note 8.

With Google finally acquiring HTC’s mobile unit, which I predicted almost a year ago, I’m going to make another bold prediction: Samsung will distance itself from Google and start to install TouchWiz in place of Android on its smartphones (it may not be next year, but it will be in the next three years). I’m not basing this prediction on any insider information, it’s simply based on how I see the landscape.

Samsung makes no secret that it wants to go on its own. It has its own pay system in Samsung Pay. It has its own mobile VR service and partnered with Oculus instead of Google. It has its own smartwatches. It has its own smart assistant in Bixby. It even has its own Galaxy Store for apps. It has the best designed and made smartphones that don’t run iOS. It has the largest user base of smartphone users in the world.

All it needs to do is test out Tizen based Galaxy S and Note phones to see how they are accepted. If Samsung could actually get developers to build apps for Tizen, it would succeed in being a true third mobile software platform where Microsoft failed. It’s the only thing stopping from Samsung going all out on Tizen (in my opinion, clearly).

That’s why Google is focused on building its own hardware now. It has to build hardware in order to preserve its method of delivery of its web-based services. It’s why Google finally made a big commitment in making its own hardware by acquiring HTC’s mobile unit. It needs to build its own hardware if it wants to survive without Samsung.

Android Wear is the canary in the coal mine. The canary just suffocated with Android Wear and if Google doesn’t ramp up production of its Pixel 2 and partner with all mobile carriers in the US, it runs the risk of disappearing from the mobile landscape in the next decade. While that might sound crazy, it probably sounded just as crazy 10 years ago that Blackberry and Nokia would no longer exist in the mobile space today.

Food for thought. Happy Sunday!


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