Android smartwatches have so far very much been also-rans compared to the market-leading Apple Watch, but all that looks set to change. Google has announced big plans for Wear OS 3, and looks like it may finally turn Android wearables into something that could seriously compete with the Apple Watch.

Android watches are getting a dramatically improved UI, better apps, and health and fitness features that rival those pioneered by Apple …

Our sister site 9to5Google covered the announcement.

At I/O 2021, Wear OS 3 was unveiled as a significant revamp — if not revival — of Google’s plans for wearables. There are three tentpoles to this effort, and it is the company’s best chance in years to be competitive in this market […]

Visually, a new navigation system makes it faster to get things done. For example, a double-press button action lets you quickly switch to your last used app, while Tiles are now open to all developers. However, the big focus of the “whole new consumer experience” is apps.

Google Maps (with turn-by-turn directions) and Assistant “being redesigned and improved.” Google Play will similarly add support for 26 new countries, beyond the current 11. In a big finally, YouTube Music will be available later this year with smart downloads. Offline storage for music has been missing since Play Music’s deprecation.

Lastly, Fitbit is also powering the fitness features on Wear OS, like tracking and on-wrist celebrations, with Google recognizing how “health and fitness tracking is essential for wearables.

All Android smartwatches look set to get the health tracking features currently offered on Fitbit devices.

One of the new wearables will be the long-awaited Samsung Galaxy Watch 4. This is expected to include blood glucose monitoring, a feature high up the wish list for many, and which is also expected to come to the Apple Watch.

I’m not suggesting any Apple Watch users rush out to buy a Samsung or other Android smartwatch once they hit the market. The Apple Watch is still likely to offer a better overall experience for those of us embedded into the Apple ecosystem, and – as much as I like round watches aesthetically – I still think a rectangular display is far more practical in terms of information density.

However, I do think this is good news for Apple Watch fans. The Cupertino company has continued to innovate in terms of both hardware and software, but progress hasn’t been as fast as many would like, and that’s in large part because there’s been no pressure to do so. The Apple Watch hasn’t had any real competition from Android smartwatches.

But if Wear OS 3 delivers on its promises, and companies like Samsung and Fitbit create new models with exciting new capabilities like blood sugar monitoring, puts the pressure onto Apple – and that’s great news for all of us.

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