What Fossil’s New Smartwatches Say About Google Partnership

·5-min read

Fossil’s situation inside its smartwatch partnership with Google evokes words best fit for self-help titles: Making the best of a bad situation. How to live in limbo without losing your mind. Is your partner ghosting you?

That’s especially true this week.

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According to people inside the watch company, Fossil reached out to the tech partner ahead of CES, hoping for an answer to the one question that would come up again and again over the conference: When will the latest Wear OS3 software reach Fossil devices?

The answer would determine whether two new models, the Razer x Fossil Gen 6 and the Skagen Falster Gen 6, faced an exciting debut at CES or an awkward one. A concrete expectation would also shape a whole year’s worth of updates and product launches.

It’s been nearly eight months since Google unveiled its overhauled smartwatch software, and six since it sketched out a loose timeframe for release. A July blog post noted that newer Fossil and Mobvoi devices will receive the update between the middle and end of 2022 — which, at the tail end, would mark more than a year and a half since Wear OS3’s introduction to the public.

No further details have come out since then, not even for the pivotal fashion partner that sustained Google’s smartwatch business for years. So instead of celebrating the most significant change to the platform in years, the watch company fields constant questions about a holdup it can’t control.

“Unfortunately, a lot of that is still with Google,” explained a Fossil spokesperson, who was not authorized to speak on the record. The two companies work closely on development, the person said, but “all we were told — and we did check in with them right before CES, just knowing it was going to come up, and we’re eager to know as well — but it is still that mid to end of 2022.”

The lack of clarity is not as surprising as the detail that Fossil, perhaps the most important partner for the Wear platform, has been as much in the dark as everyone else.

The wait will end at some point. But in the meantime, any product launches become tricky, since the company must tout new hardware with older software. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, especially if no one else offers a Wear OS3 device either. Except someone does.

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch4 launched with the software, and it’s still the only option for Wear OS3. The South Korean electronics giant, which worked with Google on the revamp, unveiled the device in August. Two weeks later, Fossil revealed its first Gen 6 smartwatches under Michael Kors and its namesake brand. The Gen 6 class, which now includes the Razer and Skagen, ships with Wear OS2.

Skagen Falster Gen 6 - Credit: Courtesy/Shelley Kautz
Skagen Falster Gen 6 - Credit: Courtesy/Shelley Kautz

Courtesy/Shelley Kautz

The company is doing its best to focus on the positives. Gen 6 is a notable step up from the previous generation with zippier performance and more battery life, thanks to the Snapdragon Wear 4100+ processor from Qualcomm. In an apparent swipe at Samsung, Fossil employees told WWD that this four-core processor even outperforms Samsung’s dual-core, though independent testing will have to verify that.

The watches feature fast charging, up to 80 percent in 30 minutes, and blood oxygen tracking, as well as continuous heart rate monitoring, in addition to the other standard metrics like sleep and steps. Music fans will appreciate offline listening for Spotify Premium and YouTube Music.

Where the new products separate from the pack is in their styling. The Falster Gen 6 is unmistakably Skagen, with clean, modern looks befitting Danish minimalism. The Razer x Fossil Gen 6, cast in green and black from the straps to the watch faces, was designed to appeal to gamers, Razer’s core customers. Product availability speaks to this as well, with 1,337 units nodding to “1337” slang, a reference to “leet” or elite.

Fossil also added a twist to these and the rest of the Gen 6 watches: Alexa. The Amazon voice assistant was “snuck in there” to offer another choice beyond the Google Assistant, said a Fossil spokesman, though it’s not yet active.

“It’s an Alexa app coming soon. The Amazon team is not ready to launch it yet. But we pre-loaded it because the moment they’re able to launch that in the coming month or so, they’ll be able to update that app in the Play Store, and it will automatically get updated on your watch,” he said. “You will not have to wait for a firmware update from Fossil to get that update.”

Google likely won’t appreciate seeing a competitor preloaded on Wear watches. Then again, without the appeal of Wear OS3 — which reviewers have made a critical success — Fossil has little choice but to pull out all the stops.

It’s not clear if that will be enough, though.

Numerous tech critics have been warning people not to buy a Wear 2 watch, and Google itself may have explained the reason. In its July blog post, it wrote: “For the previous generation of Wear OS smartwatches, a system update to Wear OS3 will bring the benefit of many of the new experiences, and in some limited cases, the user experience will also be impacted.”

In other words, some eligible Wear OS2 users will take on the update process, which requires resetting to factory settings, only to experience unpredictable results. How many cases “limited” amounts to remains to be seen, considering the new Wear was reengineered from the ground up. Brand new software often comes with glitches, especially on third-party devices.

That’s one reason Apple makes its own software, gadgets and even processor chips. It wants to control the whole experience.

The timing is another factor. If the update arrives in the fall, Fossil’s first Gen 6 watches will be a year old, and the current crop will nearly hit the same age in December. The previous context, with new hardware and old software, would invert to old hardware and new software.

Consumers, of course, will judge how important these or other factors turn out to be. Wall Street doesn’t seem all that certain. Exciting new tech product debuts tend to spike stock prices, but Fossil shares only saw a bump on announcement day.

The wait for Wear could be wearing thin.

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