With its Pixel Watch set to debut on Thursday, Google has a chance to make up for lost time by giving Android smartphone owners a worthy smartwatch — and giving them a better reason not to switch to Apple products.
Pixel phones and watches will share the spotlight with smart home devices and other hardware at the Made By Google fall product launch event in Brooklyn, New York. If Google’s device division is successful, its smartwatch could encourage customers to stay in the Android fold, much like Apple Watches make it difficult to drain their iPhones.
The Pixel Watch launch will be a staple of the Made by Google event, said Techsponential analyst Avi Greengart. “One of the things that keeps people locked into the Apple ecosystem is that once you’ve bought an Apple Watch, it’s really hard to leave.”
The iPhone has overtaken Android, Google’s mobile software, for the first time since 2010 as the smartphone of choice in the United States. Apple’s dominance in phones comes from advantages such as strong product design, loyal customers, multitude of apps, and effective marketing.
Accessories like the Apple Watch and Airpods work seamlessly together, reinforcing each other’s strengths and discouraging people from discarding one product or another. The Apple Watch only works with iPhones, making it difficult for users who spent $399 on an Apple Watch Series 8 to upgrade to Android.
Google has many other products like thermostats, Wi-Fi routers, smart speakers, and network doorbells that it can bring to this vast ecosystem competition. Expect to see a bunch of them at the Brooklyn event. But that doesn’t stop Android users from switching to iPhones, as the Google Home app that manages them also works fine on Apple products.
Google’s Wear OS software hasn’t been widely released. Apple’s Apple Watch OS watches blocked 29% of global smartwatch shipments in the second quarter of 2022, the largest by far, according to Counterpoint Research. While Android makers are creating cutting-edge phones, the lack of powerful smartwatch software made it difficult to compete with Apple, and Google itself had no smartwatch products.
The first Apple Watch arrived in 2015, a year after Google announced its Wear OS software project. Apple’s initial sales pitch was somewhat confusing – was the Apple Watch a useful digital watch or an expensive fashion accessory? But the company has taken off with regular annual upgrades that have made its smartwatch a tool for communication, health and fitness.
Google has struggled with the success of Wear OS despite support from fashion brands such as Fossil and Michael Kors. Android phone maker Samsung’s main partner has ditched Wear OS for its own Tizen operating system. This divide only began to close when Samsung returned to Google’s fold with the Galaxy Watch 4 in 2021.
For the Pixel Watch to succeed, Google will need to give us a good reason to buy it, like superior AI features and integration with Android phones and Google services. This would not only help the profits of Google’s hardware division, but the entire Android world.
A good watch can now be as important as a good phone in building customer loyalty. “In fact, I would say a number of customers have stayed with Apple because of the Apple Watch, and not necessarily because of the iPhone,” said Carolina Milanesi, analyst at Creative Strategies.
Milanesi suspects that Google’s hardware division, Made by Google, simply didn’t have the funding and staff to compete effectively with the Apple Watch.
“We always have to think about Google versus Made by Google,” she said. “I think Made by Google still has limited resources.”