Editorial: What the Hell Happened to Android Wear 2.0’s Rollout?

Editorial: What the Hell Happened to Android Wear 2.0’s Rollout?

It’s been almost 45 days Google, where is it at?

It’s been almost 45 days Motorola, Huawei, LG, ASUS; where is it at? We have written recently about OEM’s missing hype releases on phone releases — with Motorola (hey, we can call them that again), HTC, and LG all being big offenders. 

We have also written about the exacerbated state of Android OS updates when it comes to OEMs and their software skins. Larger OEMs tend to muck up the UX and need time to add their useful (and some not-so-useful) additions to Android. Add the time required for bug testing, user feedback through beta releases, and last minute fine tuning and you are already one to two months out and in many cases even more from Google’s initial release of a new version of Android.

Android Wear was supposed to be different though, at least that is what we all suspected when Google laid down the law on UX changes when releasing Wear. While each OEM does have a tendency to slightly adjust things, those changes are usually relegated to a few small applications like Motorola and Huawei’s health applications or a few watch faces – in reality, these are additions and not changes.

But here we are, at almost 45 days post-announcement and only a few Android Wear devices have the huge 2.0 update that nearly every technology focused site had as a headlining feature. None of the developer preview devices have been updated, either!

Android Wear 2.0 brings a number of largely-beneficial updates to the Wear platform; however, things like the scrolling crown, Android Pay support, and LTE are not coming to older devices that lack the required hardware. Other refinements are, though, like the new notification threading, keyboard support, watch face improvements, and the Google Assistant; these upgrades will serve to liven up some older models like the second generation Moto 360 and the first generation Huawei Watch. That is of course when the update finally comes.

I’ve been writing about wearables a lot lately discussing Android Wear’s position in relation to the market as well as theorizing as to why we are seeing such a long delay in the 2.0 rollout.

Google is dropping the ball when it comes to software feature support. Samsung has had fully supported cellular connected devices with GPS for some time, and both Samsung and Apple have each nailed down the alternative control interface either through the rotating bezel on the Gear S2 and S3 or the “Digital Crown” on the Apple Watch. These companies have both also offered NFC payment solutions for well over a year now with Samsung going a step further and fully supporting MST/NFC payments on the Gear S3. The features that Wear 2.0 are bringing to the table are ones it should have had 12 months ago -making these delays even harder to swallow; even if existing devices cannot make use of them. Hardware or not, the experience and software still benefit from the time that the Wear engineers have put into it, but a single cohesive experience across new and old devices is something Google really has a hard time nailing down – to the detriment of its user base.

If you follow @AndroidWear on Twitter, Google seems to really be pushing new Wear 2.0 devices, but these older linchpins of the Wear ecosystem are seemingly falling by the wayside. It would not be a stretch to say that the Moto 360 v2 and Huawei Watch v1 are the two most recognizable name plates of Android Wear and have been pivotal to its success thus far, but neither of them run the latest software. The most ironic thing is that many of these brand new devices are similarly equipped in terms of features as compared to their older siblings. Of the Wear 2.0 devices announced so far there are only a few that make use of all the new Wear 2.0 features, with the most recognizable being the LG Watch Sport. All the rest are missing either NFC, LTE, the rotating bezel, or some combination thereof.

While Google is not 100% to blame for the delays we are seeing in rolling out updates, they are the main gatekeeper for Android Wear software updates, which can’t be said for the Android smartphone OS . Google wants to be taken seriously as a major OEM, and in regards to the Pixel line they are doing a stellar job of just that by providing software support on a timely basis. But Google is not like Apple, and Android is not like iOS. They do not have total control over the hardware that carries their branding to which Google uses to their benefit. The successful “Be Together. Not the Same” branding that highlights the choice and user catering Android is known for is a perfect example of this. But their approach to providing software support directly or via OEMs, even when an ecosystem like Wear is a largely homogenous platform of mostly-equal hardware, is pitiful to say the least.

We also come back to the fact that I brought up in a prior article where the Huawei Watch and Urbane were both developer preview devices, supposedly running the finalized code and API’s, but still have yet to see an update. While these complaints can be marginalized as the tantrums of a nerd with little better to do, it also perfectly highlights how Google’s lack of control and/or care over the experience its ecosystem provides is just another feather in the cap of grievances against Google.

If you follow the XDA Wear forums, you may have seen a few Google sources (ie. support requests via Twitter and otherwise) state that all eligible Android Wear devices will receive OTA’s before 3/31. Now, we can’t say for sure that this isn’t an accurate release schedule, but the rumor mill pegged the rollout date between 2/15 and 3/15, and some outlets have reported that it may be by 4/15. What we do know is the update will come when it comes, and when it comes it will be long after the hype of the new features has died down. This is not what we have come to expect from a more tightly controlled ecosystem like Android Wear.

On the smartphone side of Android we frequently blame OEMs and carriers for software delays due to them needing time to add their “bloat”, but what’s the excuse here? Could OEMs not be the entire problem, but instead Google? No one knows for sure what is causing this delay, but what we do know is that the current state of Android Wear updates is trending downhill and into old tendencies; who do we blame now?

At least the daily memes about the delay over at /r/AndroidWear are somewhat placating the pain of waiting for Android Wear 2.0.

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