In brief: Wear OS 3 is the most promising development around smartwatches for Android users, but Google says the new experience won't be arriving to many existing models. If you're excited about the next Wear OS, this may be the worst time to buy a new watch, as even qualifying models won't receive the upgrade until the second half of 2022.
Google revealed earlier this year it was partnering with Samsung to combine Wear OS and Tizen to create a common platform that would leverage the strengths of both in competing with the Apple Watch.
The new platform is simply called "Wear OS 3," and some of the touted improvements include faster app loading times, better battery life, offline Spotify music, Fitbit activity tracking, a standalone Maps app, and an improvements for developers, who will only need to develop apps, custom UI layers, and watch faces for a single platform. That is, if Google's new Wear OS experiment is able to draw enough people in.
We already know that Samsung will be the first to launch a smartwatch running Wear OS 3 in the Galaxy Watch 4, which is expected to make an appearance next month at the Galaxy Unpacked event. The company said this would be its first wearable to come with a new "One UI" experience, and is expected to be powered by a new, Exynos W920 chipset.
As exciting as that may be, one of the big promises with Wear OS 3 was that it would come to existing smartwatches. Today, Google explained that Wear OS 3 will land on a limited number of models in the second half of 2022, which is disappointing but not completely unexpected. There's only a handful of devices that are currently on sale that will receive the upgrade, while all watches equipped with a Snapdragon Wear 3100 or older chip will be left behind.
Google appears to believe the best experience requires the power of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 4100+, which has only been available for little more than a year. Owners of Samsung's existing smartwatches are also out of luck, and buying a new watch at this point may not be the best idea.
So far, the only devices confirmed to receive an upgrade to Wear OS 3 are Mobvoi's TicWatch Pro 3 Cellular/LTE, TicWatch Pro 3 GPS, and TicWatch E3. Upcoming Mobvoi and Fossil smartwatches won't come with Wear OS 3 out of the box, but owners will be able to upgrade at a later time. However, Google did warn that not all new features will be available on these watches while performance may suffer a small hit as a result of the upgrade.
The company also explains that people who opt to receive Wear OS 3 on eligible devices will have to perform a factory reset. As for Wear OS 2 users, and people who don't want to upgrade, they'll be treated to a new Play Store experience, and will receive security updates for at least two years after the device launch.