Last night, Android Police caught two new job listings at Google: “Vice President, Hardware Engineering, Wearables” and “Wearables Design Manager, Consumer Hardware.”
Given the sorry state of Wear OS smartwatches, everybody has their fingers crossed that this finally means that Google is getting serious about doing something to improve its smartwatch offering — specifically, by making one itself.
It’s certainly a reasonable conclusion to jump to. There are lots of clues you could put together that seem to add up to Google working on its own hardware for a smartwatch: this job, for one, along with Google’s overall strategy of making its own hardware as touchstone devices that teach the rest of the Android (and Chrome and Google Assistant) industry how to do it well.
But separating out clues from desires is particularly gnarly when it comes to smartwatches. A lot of Android users want Google to make a first-party, first-class smartwatch precisely because the Wear OS ecosystem is not very good right now. Google has a history of making pretty good hardware, and Android users need a de facto best smartwatch choice.
Google had no comment when I asked if this job was about making a smartwatch. It’s possible that it’s not. Google executives have referred to headphones like the Pixel Buds as “wearables” to me before. But I think (or at least I’d like to think) that it’s more likely than not that we can assume this is about the more traditional definition of “wearable.” I also think that if the company is hiring for this role now, it seems unlikely that we’ll see a Google Pixel Watch this year — or at least, we won’t see one that has received much input from the person who lands this job.
Back to those clues, though. Rumors that Google was making a “Pixel Watch” were so pervasive and believable last year that the company had to come out in August and say it wasn’t happening. “To think of a one-size-fits-all watch, I don’t think we’re there yet,” Miles Barr, Google’s director of engineering for Wear OS, said. “Our focus is on our partners for now.”
Since then, we’ve seen references to “medaka” and “salmon” codenames appear in the Android open-source code. That’s notable because Google usually uses fish names for its own hardware, so it implies they’re references to something Google is making. And the code being discussed seemed to relate to Wear OS, and the engineers who submitted the code have a history of working on that platform. Clues! Hope!
Another clue is the fact that Google recently spent $40 million on some kind of wearable technology from Fossil. According to Fossil’s executive vice president, it’s a “new product innovation that’s not yet hit the market,” but Google also told Wearable that the purpose of the acquisition was to “bring it to other partners in the ecosystem.” That means that our story is starting to look more like a yarn and tack conspiracy board than a coherent case that Google is definitely making its own watch.
At the center of that board is the thing that happens to be at the center of every computer, even one you wear on your wrist: the processor. If Google were to make its own smartwatch, what processor would it use? The only viable option out there right now — at least, in the short term — is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 3100. That processor promised better battery life and perhaps slightly better speeds, but it hasn’t really delivered on either.
Wear OS as a software platform has a nice enough user interface, but it suffers from lag, stutter, and disinterest from third-party app makers. A new processor could help with the first two, and an actually good watch made by Google might help with the third.
Do all of these clues add up to Google making its own smartwatch? Probably. Do they also add up to the VP of Hardware for Wearables having a tough job? Definitely.