It’s probably not a good thing when a big product announcement from Google is met with a resounding: Why?But for at least some of us, that’s what happened when the search giant revealed the Pixel Watch back in May at Google I/O, its annual developer conference. Eight years after the debut of the Android-based WearOS platform (originally called Android Wear), Google is marrying the smartwatch software it originally created with in-house hardware, rather than leaving it to Samsung and other big tech companies to flood the market with Galaxy Watches and whatnot. And that makes sense on the business end, given that it’s exactly the playbook Google followed when it started producing in-house Pixel phones years after creating Android. (No, the Nexus line doesn’t count.) But as we await the official unveiling of the Pixel Watch at the Made By Google event on Thursday, all we can wonder is why we should care about this thing at all, especially when so many other Android smartwatches already exist. Why make a smartwatch now, Google?
Looks like a fancy watch and is just as expensive
At first glance, the most noteworthy thing about the Pixel Watch is just how unremarkable it looks. The physical design of the Pixel Watch is pretty…normal. It’s got a circular watch face with a button and a “tactile crown” on the right side. You know, much like a not-very-smart watch.We also know courtesy of a recent retail leak that the Pixel Watch will be available with black, silver, and gold cases, which are also pretty standard watch colors. All in all, the thing looks like a dang “dumb” watch, more so than the rectangular-faced Apple Watch. Google has done some unique things with hardware design before (the camera bar on the Pixel 6 and 7 really make those phones stand out), but that isn’t really the case here.And that’s totally fine. But what’s less fine is the reported price in that same leak. It’ll apparently start at $350 for a WiFi version, with an extra $50 bolted on for an LTE-enabled model. From a strictly WearOS perspective, that doesn’t seem like a great deal. Samsung’s recent Galaxy Watch 5 starts at $280 — a full $70 less than the reported Pixel Watch price. If you want to bring Apple Watches into the equation, an Apple Watch SE (the company’s lowest-end model) with LTE service is just $300. You would have to go up to $400 for an Apple Watch Series 8 with the latest features. It’s unclear if the Pixel Watch is supposed to be on the same level as the entry-level Apple Watch SE and Galaxy Watch 5, or closer to the more feature-rich Apple Watch Series 8 and Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. If it’s the former, then the $350 price is a bad look; if it’s the latter, then maybe Google might just be cooking with gas.To be fair to Google, a quick look at the smartwatch market does somewhat justify its decision to jump in now with a Pixel Watch. Market research firm Canalys said Samsung registered a staggering 58 percent annual growth in smartwatch shipments between the second quarters of 2021 and 2022. It’s clearly a growing market, at least for Google’s closest Android competitor.If Google thinks it can get away with selling its own smartwatch at a price higher than its own Android rivals, then the software powering the experience better kill it to justify that cost.
For true Nest-heads only
Trying to preemptively judge the Pixel Watch before Google’s official reveal is tough because, despite Google’s penchant for leaks, there’s still some uncertainty around the device. Namely, what it does. That said, there have been some leaks pointing to its feature set. Tweet may have been deleted (opens in a new tab) For example, tech leaker Evan Blass recently got ahold of some photos that showcase various physical features of the watch, one of which indicates it’s packing a heartbeat sensor. This is a must-have for any modern smartwatch, as they’ve become de-facto health devices rather than digital timekeepers. Just take one look at how Apple advertises the Apple Watch as a literal life-saver, between its heart rate tracking, fertility monitoring, and crash detection. Another leak from tech site Slashleaks indicates the Pixel Watch might have sleep monitoring and ECG tracking, which are also standard smartwatch features that you’ll find on the Galaxy Watch 5 and Apple Watch.However, we haven’t gotten confirmation yet that the Pixel Watch has a skin temperature sensor. Both the Galaxy Watch 5 and Apple Watch Series 8 have one, although each implementation delivers mixed results. On the Galaxy Watch, it’s mostly just used for enhanced sleep monitoring right now. Apple, on the other hand, uses it for fertility tracking, which is super cool and helpful. It’s totally possible that the Pixel Watch has one of these sensors built-in and, if it does, that could be an opportunity to set itself apart from the pack. But if the Pixel Watch launches without a skin temperature sensor, that would be a major disappointment, especially given its reported $350 price.So far, the Pixel Watch is shaping up to be a mostly normal-looking and normal-functioning smartwatch that doesn’t break any new ground. Maybe Google doesn’t see the smartwatch market as broken, so it’s not setting out to fix it. However, there is one potential area for distinction and that lies in Google Home, Google’s umbrella app for controlling smart devices like Nest speakers and even mesh WiFi. Mishaal Rahman, senior technical editor for Esper (a cloud platform for Android infrastructure management), got ahold of some purported Google Home Wear OS app screenshots that showcase the Pixel Watch’s ability to control bedroom lights and the thermostat, straight from your wrist. Tweet may have been deleted (opens in a new tab) So far, this sci-fi, wrist-worn remote control feature is the biggest factor that could make a Pixel Watch worth the price of admission. But even still, you’d need to already be so deeply invested in the Google product ecosystem for this to matter much. In other words, even the coolest, most unique thing we know about the Pixel Watch isn’t useful unless you’ve already spent a bunch of money on other Android-based Nest devices. Plus, you can already control smart devices like an Apple TV with an Apple Watch around the home, so this potential feature is mainly unique in that it works for Google-run households.
Gmail my heart… err, wrist
One way Google could potentially win over some customers is by simply integrating Gmail natively into the Pixel Watch. For whatever reason, you can’t just use the Gmail app on a Galaxy Watch 4 or 5. Instead, you have to go through Outlook. Samsung is using Google’s wearable OS, so why not just use Google’s email app that everyone on Earth (okay, that’s an approximate estimate) uses, too?For what it’s worth, the Apple Watch also doesn’t have a native Gmail app, but you’ll at least get notifications if you have the Gmail app running on your iPhone. I think it’s safe to assume that a Google-made Pixel Watch will work better with the popular email service Google runs. That, in and of itself, could almost be enough of a perk to justify the $70 price hike from a Galaxy Watch 5 to a Pixel Watch. Well, maybe not, but it’d still be a really nice little bonus. Between its alleged $350 price and lack of killer health features that you can’t already get elsewhere (so far), it’s really tough to gauge just who Google thinks will buy the Pixel Watch. Well, aside from big-time Google heads who already gobble up everything Google makes. Perhaps I’m wrong about all of this and the Pixel Watch winds up being the best Android smartwatch out there. That wouldn’t be a huge surprise, given how great the Pixel phones are. But for now, when I think about the Pixel Watch, all I can muster is a big ol’ yawn.