Commentary

​Google needs a Pixel watch

Commentary: There are too many Android Wear watches, and yet not enough great ones.

Juan Garzón / CNET

There's an old football saying: When you have two starting quarterbacks, you have none. I've watched the New York Jets go through a lot of seasons with a lot of quarterbacks on the roster, but no single hero.

I just spent a week with Google's new Android Wear 2.0 software update on two different watches, and I feel like Android Wear is in the same boat. There are a lot of Android Wear watches to choose from, and many of them will get updates to Android Wear 2.0. The problem is, there is no flagship Android watch.

Sure, there are plenty of Android phones. But from 2010 to 2015, Google had delivered a Nexus phone -- in 2016 it released its first wholly designed-phone, the Pixel -- to demonstrate every year what it feels is the ideal Android experience.

The Pixel phones took things a step further with a fantastic polished design. They're part of a new wave of Google products designed, engineered and branded by Google, including the Google Home and Chromecasts. But Android Wear still feels outside that loop.

LG's newest Android Wear watches are designed along with Google's input. They're collaborative products, to a degree. But the LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style aren't quite hero Android Wear smartwatches. Google won't confirm whether a Pixel watch is in the works, but it doesn't take a soothsayer to read the tea leaves. Former Motorola head Rick Osterloh now leads Google's hardware team, and that team's intention is to build products.

It's hard enough to recommend smartwatches right now, but having one singular model to point to helps. Microsoft took that approach with its Surface laptops. Apple has one basic design for the Apple Watch, and most models perform the same tasks. Samsung honed its smartwatch vision to one Gear S2 design with variations on its theme.

Google has many, many Android Wear smartwatches made by many companies. Some have Android Pay. Some track your heart rate. Some have built-in GPS. Some have Dick Tracy-esque speakerphones. Some can access the internet even if not synced to a phone. Different models have different buttons and crowns, which means there's no uniform way of using them.

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LG's Style and Sport are the newest watches to work with Android Wear, but I wouldn't wear either one. The Style goes for thin design over battery life, Android Pay and GPS functions. The Sport adds GPS and even a stand-alone LTE-connected phone, but at a size and design I wouldn't want. The Android Wear watch I'd prefer would be something between these two. Maybe that exists in previous watch models such as the Huawei Watch, but finding the perfect fit isn't easy.

A Pixel watch could consolidate features and show off the core functions together in a tight design. Android Pay, absolutely. Hopefully, no serious compromise on battery. A new, spinning side crown button, like LG's models. Optional GPS. But most importantly, keep the design compact. The Apple Watch's design success is that most models function nearly identically, and they're all relatively small -- they don't look too weird on anyone. A Pixel watch could combine essential features. Understanding the minute differences in Android Wear watches gets tiring, and stores don't necessarily stock all models.

Right now, Android Wear's software is getting better. There are still more Apple Watches sold than Android Wear watches, despite all the companies making them. Maybe Google should focus on fewer, better watches. Or just one amazing Pixel watch.

It worked for phones and for the Home. Watches could use the love, too, and it might help Google to pinpoint where Android Wear goes next.