Google's Pixel Watch is a big deal. But taking on the Apple Watch is a massive challenge

The arrival of Google's Pixel Watch is a 'landmark event'. But will it be able to challenge the Apple Watch?
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Editor
Image: Google

This Thursday at the Made by Google event, Google will launch its latest Google Pixel devices, including the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. But perhaps the most anticipated release is the Google Pixel Watch, the first smartwatch 'built by Google, inside and out'. 

So, will the watch be worth the wait? Is it going to be a genuine challenger to the Apple Watch? Here is everything you need to know. 

Also: Google will unveil Pixel 7 and Pixel Watch on October 6 

Google has already dropped a video revealing the design of the Google Pixel Watch, which includes a sleek, circular, domed face with a simple scrolling crown.

The watch will utilize Google's Wear OS technology, including an integration with Fitbit. And while all the exact details, including price, will be revealed on Thursday, what's clear is the watch's release marks a milestone for Google's product portfolio. 

"Pixel Watch is the first major smartwatch designed from the ground up by Google. It is a landmark event," says Neil Mawston, executive director at tech analyst firm Strategy Analytics. 

Google already has an expansive ecosystem of devices, including smartphones, speakers, displays, streaming devices, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, security cameras and doorbells. While there have been many Android smartwatches over the years, this is the first built entirely by Google. 

Google's Pixel smartphones have been used to showcase the best features of Android. If the Pixel Watch is used in the same way to show off the potential of Wear OS, it could evolve into an interesting competitor to the Apple Watch, although Google's offering will certainly have a lot of catching up to do in terms of features and market share. It could also help point the way for other Wear OS-using tech companies looking to succeed in the smartwatch market.

"The Pixel Watch helps complete Google's ecosystem of products and services and finally allows them to go toe to toe with Apple, Samsung, and other competitors," Jitesh Ubrani, IDC research manager, tells ZDNET. 

Also: Pixel Watch vs Galaxy Watch 5

So, why has Google never dropped a smartwatch before? The answer is timing.

Right now, Google is in the best position it has ever been to drop a watch, due to a combination of recent acquisitions, its smartphone market presence, and developments to Wear OS

Wear OS, launched back in 2014, has gradually picked up momentum and has been utilized in smartwatches by major brands such as Michael Kors, Citizen and even Samsung. 

Google's $40 million acquisition of Fossil's tech in 2019 and its $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit, which was finalized in 2021, have also been a driving force behind the growth of Wear OS. 

Also: Want a new Apple Watch? We compared the 5 best models available

The tech from both of these purchases has allowed Google to bolster and expand its Wear OS capabilities and it is now implementing these upgrades into its first watch. 

"Google has been slower than Apple to realize the smartwatch opportunity, but its Fitbit purchase in 2021 helped to turbocharge Google's efforts, and its market momentum is now starting to pick up nicely," says Mawston.

"We estimate Wear OS has more than doubled during the past year from 8% US smartwatch market share in Q2 2021 to 21% in Q2 2022. Samsung and several other hardware OEMs are strongly supporting the Wear OS platform."

Google's Wear OS isn't the only Google product that has experienced growth during the past year. Despite only holding 3% smartphone market share in the first quarter of 2022, Google still has a lot more than the 1% market share it had the year before, according to a Canalys study.

Google's growing presence in the smartphone market has perhaps encouraged it to take the next step and release a product for the growing smartwatch market. 

"The Pixel line of phones, which sits at the center of the ecosystem, needed to find its footing before Google was in a position to introduce add-on devices like the watch," says Ubrani.

Google is entering the market late in comparison to some of its biggest competitors, such as Apple, which launched its first watch in 2015. Apple currently holds 28.9% smartwatch market share, dominating the space, according to a Canalys study

Apple recently added new watches to its line up including the Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Ultra. Apple's cemented presence in the smartwatch space will likely pose a challenge to the Google Pixel Watch. 

And that's not the only challenge ahead.

"Pixel Watch's Achilles heel is probably going to be distribution, because its US and global retail presence for now is much smaller than that of the established Apple Watch," says Mawston. 

The Google Pixel watch's selling point will rely on its unique features, such as the health features the watch will carry through its Fitbit integration, to make it an attractive option that stands out against competitors. 

"Google Assistant and Fitbit's health features are expected to be front and center for the Pixel Watch and putting that on someone's wrist can create quite a powerful experience that's unique to Pixel," says Ubrani. 

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