Here’s a statement that will fill everyone with optimism: Facebook is building an Android smartwatch! It shows a new report from The Information, which says that the watch will be on the market next year.
Sources tell the information that the watch will be a standalone device, able to connect to mobile networks without connecting to a smartphone. The report makes it sound like Facebook wants to build its own smartwatch ecosystem, and says the device will “let users send messages using Facebook̵
Will the project succeed? Let’s just say that every word in the phrase “Facebook Android smartwatch” is cause for concern. If you exclude the acquired Oculus VR division, Facebook’s hardware commitment has not expired. The closest previous project to a smartwatch is Facebook Phone, aka, HTC First. Facebook and HTC joined forces in 2013 to design a smartphone using HTC’s hardware and Facebook’s software. Facebook created a custom Android skin with a new, Facebook-centric home screen and some other additions. The phone lasted for a month on the market. Facebook’s newer, less historically catastrophic hardware effort is the Facebook Portal line, which is a series of video chat devices available in several smart screen form factors and as a digital box for your TV. These did not sell well in the normal market, but when the pandemic hit, Portal TV sold along with all other video chat devices.
Android does not have much of a future in smartwatches. Google’s smartwatch-focused version of Android, WearOS, seems like a dead platform, capturing only 10 percent of the global smartwatch market in the first half of 2020, according to the latest report from Counterpoint Research. There is no developer base for WearOS, because sales are so low. All gadget manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Huawei and Motorola have fled the platform, leaving only the fashion brands to fight for the clippings. Google seems to have abandoned the development of the platform as well, with the latest major WearOS update released in 2018.
It is not clear if Facebook will actually use WearOS for this smartwatch. The report states that “[t]he watch would run on an open source version of Google’s Android software. “WearOS is not open source, so creating a WearOS watch will involve signing an agreement with Google and complying with the requirements. If the report is updated on the esoteric licensing of the Android source code, it sounds like Facebook will reject Phone Android and create its own version of Android-for-smartwatches, and remove all unnecessary features. Facebook will then be responsible for running an app store, creating developer APIs and a million others. of Android, “Facebook is also working on building its own operating system for future hardware.”
An important driving force behind the error on WearOS, which Facebook must also take into account, is that Qualcomm has historically not been so interested in supporting a smartwatch ecosystem with hardware. Qualcomm launched its first smartwatch SoC in 2014 and then went on for six years before releasing a new smartwatch chip that can be considered a major upgrade. The mid-2020 release of the Snapdragon Wear 4100 means that Facebook currently has a decent but not-so-good option for a smartwatch chip, but it’s not clear if Qualcomm intends to wash that chip for another six years, or if it plans to actually enable improvements from year to year of smartwatch now. Apple and Samsung both make their own smartwatch SoCs, which are not for sale to other manufacturers. If you are looking for a smartwatch SoC to buy, it is Qualcomm or bust.
The smartwatch market is completely dominated by Apple, which according to the same Counterpoint Research report has 51 percent of the global smartwatch market. The rest of the smartwatch market is a bunch of struggling vendors with bespoke operating systems, all under 10 percent each – companies like Samsung, Huawei and Garmin.