Before Samsung showed up and took over the Wear OS ecosystem, the top Android smartwatch manufacturer was Fossil. Even after Samsung’s arrival, Fossil is still going, and today the company announced the Fossil Gen 6 watches.
The Gen 6 Fossil watches are the company’s first to ship with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100+, a 12 nm, Cortex A53-based ARM chip. The “plus” at the end of that 4100 model number means there’s a low-power co-process on the SoC now, which can handle things like health tracking without waking up the big cores. It looks like the new SoC is the only upgrade over the gen 5 watches. There’s still a 1.28-inch OLED display, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage. Fossil doesn’t say how big the battery is, but it charges to 80 percent in 30 minutes. The watch has GPS, NFC, Wi-Fi, a PPG heart rate sensor, and is water-resistant.
Fossil’s new watches range from $299 to $319, and compared to the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4’s $250-$350 price, Fossil’s new watches don’t make a ton of sense in a post-Samsung Wear OS world.
Samsung and Google teamed up to revamp the Wear OS ecosystem with all-new hardware and software, and the two tech giants seem to be squeezing out smaller fashion brands like Fossil. The Galaxy Watch 4 ships with a brand-new version of Wear OS, version 3, while Fossil is still using Wear OS 2. It’s apparently going to be a while before Fossil catches up to Samsung. The company’s press release says it will be upgraded to Wear OS 3 but links to a Google forum post that says, “We expect our partners to be able to roll out [Wear OS 3] starting in mid to second half of 2022.” That’s something like 10 to 16 months from now.
Wear OS 3 combines the best of Google’s Wear OS and (supposedly) the best of Samsung’s Tizen OS. If you’re in Google’s ecosystem, Wear OS 3 comes with a recommitment from Google in terms of app support, and there is already a new version of Google Maps and exclusive access to YouTube Music in Wear OS 3. (If you’re not in Google’s ecosystem, you should probably just buy an Apple Watch.)
There’s also the hardware issue. Qualcomm has not been a great partner for Wear OS and isn’t putting a ton of effort into its wearable SoCs. The Wear 4100 was the company’s first big speed upgrade in six years, and even then it was a lackluster chip. The Galaxy Watch 4 tries much harder to be a competitive smartwatch, with a 5 nm, dual-core A55 SoC that you could justifiably call “state of the art” for a wearable.
As nice as it was to have Fossil occupy the power vacuum in the Wear OS ecosystem for the last few years, now that Samsung has shown up, Fossil is shipping a more expensive, slower smartwatch with old software that won’t be updated for 10 months. It’s not really clear what’s going on with Wear OS when it comes to smaller companies like Fossil. Is this just a temporary hiccup while the revamp transition happens, or is Google ok with having a de facto one-OEM ecosystem like this? Google certainly seems to have made a lot of concessions to Samsung when it comes to the Wear OS software.