Here's how Qualcomm-powered Wear OS watches will take on Apple Watch

New Qualcomm processors, better fitness, a better Google Assistant. Here's what to expect.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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Scott Stein
3 min read

Expect new designs, and an even better Assistant than the recent updates on current Wear OS watches (seen here).

Scott Stein/CNET

If a new Apple Watch debuts this fall, Google is likely to have a major new smartwatch (or watches) debuting right alongside it, powered by Qualcomm chips.

Pankaj Kedia, senior director and business lead for Qualcomm's Smart Wearables Segment, said as much yesterday in a story reported by Wareable. But I sat down at Google's I/O developers conference with Kedia and Dennis Troper, the new product director for Google's recently renamed Wear OS, to get more information on what to expect next. It's clear that the next wave of Wear OS smartwatches will be faster. They'll also, however, be much more about getting the increasingly intelligent Google Assistant on your wrist. 

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A long time coming

"It takes a while for new categories," says Qualcomm's Kedia. Google and Qualcomm have been working together on a new chipset for a while. "We shared a next-gen smartwatch platform." The previous Snapdragon 2100 chips used on current Android Wear watches were designed for some features, but not for where Google's next version of Wear OS is aiming to go next, and these chips have stayed the course while Apple Watch models have been getting faster year over year.

"The platform has a few chips, some are new," Kedia explains. "Our focus is, how do we significantly enhance user experiences, how Google Assistant works and how it presents itself. More visually appealing but less power."

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An even better wrist Assistant, including fitness

Wear OS is getting an upgrade to its Assistant functions, adding controls for Google Assistant-ready devices and getting contextual replies and applike Actions. But that could be the beginning of bigger changes to come.

Google's Troper says to expect the next Wear OS watches to be a lot more active at being on-wrist assistants, with the watches "being more proactive about information you may want to see." Troper says, "We'll want to be basically injecting personalized, proactive assistant suggestions that are low-powered," including more fitness insights.

Some of these ideas sound like what's in Android P's more visual Assistant mode. Troper also suggests that the ability to remember daily habits and apps could increase. "Is it possible for the watch to start learning more about your patterns and about what you've done? Yes, it's definitely in the realm of possibility; you should expect more and more personalization, and having a more intimate relation between your smartwatch and yourself over time. I'm not announcing anything, but this is where it's all headed."

Better fitness functions suggest a renewed focus on fitness sensors, but Qualcomm wouldn't elaborate or confirm anything along those lines.  

Watch this: Google's smartwatches get a smarter Assistant

Better design, improved power management 

Kedia hints that part of the new focus is on making the watches fit a better design, or perhaps function. The next watches are aiming to be better across the board. "What do watch companies and fitness companies and sports companies want?" Kedia asks, and then answers himself: They want the watches "to look beautiful, more visually appealing." Wear OS currently runs on a number of fashion watch brand designs, but many of them are on the thicker side.

The Qualcomm exec also says the next platform will have better low-power performance, but with a goal of driving more advanced interactions. And, expect better power management in general. "Today, you have different modes: interactive mode, then the ambient mode, and low battery. Of course the new architecture will enhance all of the above. Exactly how it does it, I'm dying to tell you."

Basically, one thing's clear: If you're at all considering a smartwatch and have an Android phone, you'd better wait till the fall.

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