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Wear OS 4: A look ahead at Google’s OS for smartwatches in 2023

In this article, we look ahead to the rest of 2023 and what it might mean for the Wear OS operating system. Will we get a full jump to Wear OS 4?

In a recent interview with Wired, Björn Kilburn, head of product management for Wear OS, said that a new version of Wear OS will be released roughly every year. More specifically, he said that Google’s intention is to “release a new version of Wear generally every year in a manner similar to mobile.” So something akin to what Apple does with watchOS.

It is unclear whether this means a full version number jump, such as from 3.0 to 4.0, or a significant interim jump, such as from 3.0 to 3.5. Recent months have seen many updates and improvements made to both apps and the operating system itself, and various third-party watch manufacturers are gradually rolling out Wear OS 3.

Having said that, Google’s operating system is now at version 3.5 but most watches are still at version 2. Therefore, it wouldn’t surprise us if we get an interim version this year, with the full Wear OS 4 to arrive in 2024.

Essential readingBest fitness trackers and health gadgets

Regardless, it is reasonable to anticipate further changes to the company’s operating system this year. This is necessary in the fast-paced world of wearable technology in order to keep up with Apple and others. It will also ensure that the most recent Android features are quickly integrated into smartwatches.

With the release of Pixel Watch and the acquisition of Fitbit, Google appears to now be committed to this space. We are pleased to see the company making progress with its operating system.

Now that we are into 2023, it’s time to pull out the crystal ball and look ahead to the next 12 months of wear OS. What is reasonable to expect, what features could land next?

1. Wear OS 4 will likely be based on Android 13

Wear OS 3.X is based on the Android 11 smartphone and tablet operating system. It was released in September 2021 and has several additional features and improvements over previous Android versions. Some of these include enhanced privacy options, new chat bubbles for messaging apps, a built-in screen recording function, better support for foldable phones, along with enhanced compatibility for 5G networks.

The addition of Wear OS-specific changes to the Android CTS branches by Google suggest the next major version of Wear OS will not be based on Android 12 or 12L. Other AOSP code changes point to this, as well.

Rather, it seems likely wear OS 4 will be based on Android 13, with dynamic theming based on the colour of your watch-face. Dynamic theming allows users to modify the look and feel of their device automatically. Meaning, they do not have to swap themes or adjust settings manually.

2. Close gaps in the platform

Google has made significant steps to address and close many of the most visible gaps in its platform, particularly those over which it has direct control. But there’s still work to be done.

Users should be able to use their smartwatches to create calendar events, view and update tasks and birthday reminders and edit Keep notes and Gmail. Google has also pledged to give offline map capabilities in the months ahead.

These and other modifications will improve the ease and functionality of the Google wearOS platform. They will also make it more convenient for users to access and manage their information and tasks while on the go.

3. Fitness and health improvements

Improved accuracy of health sensors and measures such as steps taken and GPS position are to be expected. Perhaps even a few more advanced performance metrics. Further advancements in data sharing with devices manufactured by other companies are also likely.

4. Longer battery life

Battery life has long been a source of contention with wearOS watches. The next version of Google’s operating system, we hope, will address this issue.

Unfortunately, no Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 watches were revealed at CES 2023. Which is a little disappointing. No doubt they will arrive later in the year.

In an ideal world we would like to have wearOS watches with a battery life of at least 7 days. But let’s keep our expectations in check. Even 3-4 days would be nice!

5. More companies opting for subscription services

Subscription services for advanced health data on smartwatches have created a Pandora’s box for more companies to follow suit. Google piggybacked on Fitbit’s Premium Subscription with its Pixel Watch optional subscription option. Now Mobvoi is following suit with its own subscription model. It is a worrying trend. Garmin and Amazfit continue to be notable exceptions.

The growing popularity of these subscription services suggests that more and more brands may follow suit in the future for their wear OS watches. Particularly as price of hardware falls and they look for ways to keep their businesses afloat. Let’s hope we are wrong about this one!

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Ivan Jovin

Ivan has been a tech journalist for over 7 years now, covering all kinds of technology issues. He is the guy who gets to dive deep into the latest wearable tech news.

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