Apple Watch could have come to Android — but Apple claims it wasn’t possible

Apple watch walkie-talkie feature
(Image credit: Future)

What if the Apple Watch was compatible with Android? It’s something a small number of Android users have wondered about over the years, but mostly discounted due to Apple’s fondness for exclusivity. But the company has now claimed that it did actually try to bring Apple Watch support to Android phones.

This has come out as part of the DOJ’s lawsuit against Apple (via 9to5Mac), over claims Apple has an illegal iPhone monopoly. One key piece of evidence in this claim is the Apple Watch and the fact it’s only compatible with iPhones. 

Evidently the DOJ believes that by pushing iPhone users towards the Apple Watch, and not allowing it to connect to non-Apple smartphones, it makes the idea of leaving the Apple ecosystem all the more expensive. Because not only do you need a brand new phone, you also need to purchase another expensive smartwatch to go with it.

Apple has hit back at this accusation by claiming it had considered bringing the Apple Watch to Android. In fact the company supposedly spent three years trying to figure that out, only to scrap the project over “technical limitations”. 

Of course it’s quite hard to believe that Apple couldn’t make the Apple Watch come to Android — even if it meant removing some functionality to make it happen. Apple has a history of refusing to make its products and services available to Android phones. That includes iMessage, which could have come to Android but Apple executives believed was a key way to ensure iPhone owners keep buying iPhones for themselves and their family.

A Bloomberg report from last year claimed as much about the Apple Watch. Apparently work was “nearly complete”, with the goal being to help sell Apple Watches in countries and regions where iPhones didn’t have a large market share. But sources told Bloomberg that this project was scrapped so as to not “dilute the value of the watch to the iPhone”.

Had the Apple Watch come to Android, I suspect it wouldn’t have been the same experience as using the wearable with an iPhone. AirPods, for example, can be used as regular Bluetooth earbuds with non-Apple devices, but the more advanced features like quick-pairing and spatial audio require a compatible Apple device to function. 

An Android-friendly Apple Watch would no doubt have operated in much the same way. All the basic features, but none of the premium offerings that only an iPhone connection could enable.

Apple Watch Series 9

(Image credit: Future)

Then again had Apple been able to offer premium features on Android phones, it could have dominated the Android wearables market. Google has done a lot to try and revitalize Wear OS and wearables on the platform, but it’s still nowhere near as capable (or popular) as Apple Watch has become. 

But had that happened, it would have been one less reason to buy an iPhone — which may have affected Apple’s bottom line. In terms of both hardware sales and income from the App Store and other services. There's a reason Apple Watches dominate our best smartwatches list, after all.

While it’s not clear whether the DOJ’s claims will hold up in court, the idea of leaving the Apple ecosystem is daunting for some. Whether it’s a case of having to relocate all their favorite apps, transferring the photos and videos away from iCloud, or the fact that they’ve got so much Apple hardware it would cost a fortune to make any meaningful switch.

Change is scary, whereas familiarity is comfortable. Especially if that familiarity doesn’t involve forking out a bunch of extra money on new devices. With that in mind it’s no wonder people don’t like to switch — but whether the DOJ can prove Apple has been putting up these barriers on purpose is another story.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.