Wear OS to take on Apple Watch in health

Fitbit Versa 2
(Image credit: Fitbit)

In a smartwatch world dominated by Apple and Samsung, it's easy to overlook Wear OS devices. Watches that use Google's operating system may look snappy, but they lack the health and fitness features that have made the Apple Watch 5 and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 the ones people tend to buy.

Google apparently wants to change that, at least if a survey it's been sending around is any indication of the company's intentions for Wear OS. The survey, sent out through Google's User Experience Research program, asks people want kind of features they want in a smartwatch and health tracking dominates the list of suggested additions.

Droid Life first spotted the survey, which asks respondents how they would feel if a given feature came with a smartwatch followed up by how they would feel if a watch didn't have that feature. Survey participants also get to suggest their top three improvements for watches.

The list of topics pulled from the survey include everything from sleep tracking to heartbeat alerts, stress tracking, and calorie intake logging. Pairing your watch with medical devices is also part of the survey as is fertility and cycle tracking. There are a number of activity monitoring topics too, including flights of stairs, elevation tracking and pairing the watch with gym equipment.

All told, Droid Life's report lists 23 health and fitness topics included in Google's survey.

It's not too much of a leap to see that Google might be taking its cues from what Apple has done with its smartwatches. Apple Watch use has picked up in recent years as Apple has moved away from treating its watch as an extension of the iPhone and more as a tool for monitoring health and fitness.

watchOS 6, the latest version of Apple's watch software, includes health and activity trends, customized period tracking and tools for monitoring sound to make sure you're not damaging your hearing. Rumors about future watchOS updates point to sleep tracking becoming a bigger part of the Apple Watch's repertoire.

Samsung's smartwatch efforts have also focused on health as of late, with last year's Galaxy Watch Active 2 release adding an electrocardiogram sensor to match a feature found on the Apple Watch.

Google's apparent interest in health features for Wear OS is driven by more than just a desire to keep up with its rivals. Last year, Google bought Fitbit, and it seems likely that company's fitness tracking prowess is going to become a bigger part of future versions of Wear OS.

We'd expect to hear more about Wear OS at Google I/O, the company's annual developer conference slated for this May. Wear OS has been MIA from recent Google keynotes, but this stepped interest in health could signal that's about to change.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.