Google’s smartwatch operating system Wear OS has struggled to keep up with Apple’s watchOS, leaving users with some software disadvantages compared to the annually updated Apple Watch. Rather than waiting for Google to update Wear OS, Fossil is today pushing out its own software update for Gen 5 smartwatches, adding five “exclusively developed by Fossil Group” features that will make its wearables more competitive with Apple’s.
You may recall that watchmaker Fossil has developed a special relationship with Google, having transferred a mysterious smartwatch-related innovation and engineering team to the tech giant last year in a $40 million acquihire. Rather than exiting the smartwatch business following the deal, Fossil kept a 200-person R&D team in place while noting that smartwatches had become the company’s fastest-growing product segment — a testament to the device’s widening appeal for important notifications, workout tracking, and light communications. But Fossil relies on Wear OS for software and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 for core hardware functionality.
The standout addition is a new sleep tracker app that will let Gen 5 watches record sleep history, monitor restfulness, and set sleep goals. While Apple is introducing similar features in watchOS 7, Fossil’s software is rolling out to the general public now, giving Gen 5 watches a brief lead. They’re also getting new battery management features, including personalized profiles that can help users quickly toggle their processor performance/battery tradeoffs, enabling Gen 5 to last for 24 hours between charges.
Two new additions are focused on fitness. Fossil is adding a new cardio fitness level tracker — VO2 max estimation — designed to approximate cardiorespiratory health and overall fitness levels over time. The tracker combines a user’s resting heart rate with self-provided details such as age, gender, and weight. There’s also a new Wellness app, apparently moving heart rate and step tracking off the Snapdragon Wear 3100’s main processor to its coprocessor, reducing battery consumption during distance, pace, and calorie tracking for workouts.
Last, but not least, are a series of Phone app-related tweaks, including a new tile to support Wear OS’ recently developed glanceable Tiles system, avatars for contacts, and quick access to both current call status and prior call history. Fossil notes that its “exclusive work” allows both Android and iPhone users to answer tethered calls through Gen 5, expanding the wearables’ potential appeal to some Apple fans.
Between the new features and Gen 5’s $295 pricing, there’s little question it’s a legitimate challenger to the Apple Watch, though its advantages are largely in value and customization. Wear OS offers users access to a comparatively gigantic collection of watch faces, an attractive circular design, and an always-on screen at a lower price than Apple’s flagship Series 5 — currently the only model with the latter feature. Moreover, the $295 Gen 5 is made from stainless steel, a material only used in Apple Watches priced at or above $699. Apple’s Series 3 model now sells for $199 but is made from easily dented aluminum.
Fossil’s software updates arrive today through the Gen 5’s Settings app and are compatible with Android 6.0 or newer phones, as well as iOS 10 or newer iPhones. The free Wear OS by Google app is required to use Gen 5 on either smartphone platform.