This post was originally published on August 29th and updated on August 30th. Update below.
I find it odd that there still isn’t a world-beating, Apple-challenging, Wear OS smartwatch on the shelves. It’s also telling that two of the biggest Android smartwatch makers – Huawei and Samsung – don’t use Wear OS.
The platform has famously had its problems and it’s clearly not Google’s priority right now. Despite promising efforts from Skagen and Fossil, and the recently released Oppo Watch – all of which have their foibles – there is still space for a new contender.
Enter OnePlus. The Chinese company is reportedly working on a new smartwatch. A Singaporean regulatory body, the IMDA, published a listing about a device called the “OnePlus Watch”, which is described as a “wearable watch”. Check out my colleague David Phelan’s story on it here. TechRadar also reported that a former OnePlus employee they’d spoken to claimed that the company had been working on the device for over a year.
Update 08/30: It looks like the OnePlus Watch will be joined by another new device in the ecosystem, an entry level smartphone. Android Central has reported that the new phone is codnamed “Clover” and will retail for around $200. For that price, buyers can expect a 6.52-inch 720p display, 4GB of RAM, Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 460 chipset, expandable storage, a huge 6000mAh battery and three cameras on the rear of the device.
Interestingly, Android Central claims that the new device will have wider availability than previous OnePlus handsets. The Nord didn’t launch in the US, for example, but Clover will, which suggests a major change in strategy for the Chinese company.
The timing of this leak is also interesting, because OnePlus typically launches a refresh of its flagship smartphone range in the Fall, which means an announcement for this and the new watch could be imminent. The Fast Company interview with OnePlus CEO Pete Lau in May (below) is proving to be very revealing as the months go on. Lau explicitly said that the Chinese company would grow its ecosystem user-base with entry level smartphones. This new Clover device looks like that, and the OnePlus Watch is the ecosystem reward. As I say, the timing of both the watch and Clover leaks are worth noting, we could see both announced in the next couple of months.
There isn’t much additional information about the watch outside of its name. But we know that OnePlus is expanding its product line, with its new earbuds and TVs, all of which fall under the new ecosystem it is gradually building. Another wearable is a key piece of that jigsaw. The question is, what would a OnePlus watch look like and how would it behave?
OnePlus has previously talked about how its ecosystem of products will communicate with each other to add another level of user experience, in the same way Apple’s and Google’s products do. A Fast Company story earlier this year talked about what that could look like, giving the example of a OnePlus TV automatically lowering the volume when a connected OnePlus phone rings.
Apple is particularly skilled at making its wearables communicate with its smartphones. For example, when taking a picture on your iPhone, users can operate the camera from their Apple Watch by setting timers, zooming-in and framing the image.
This kind of thing should be the reward for buying into a company’s ecosystem: extra functionality that’s exclusive to those products when used together.
Controlling your OnePlus TV, via channel and volume controls, on your OnePlus Watch is the type of integration I expect from OnePlus. Your Nord, Buds or OnePlus TV could remind you to charge your OnePlus Watch when the battery level is low. Or, perhaps, users could adjust EQ settings for the new OnePlus Buds via the watch. There are a lot of small but impactful integrations for OnePlus to explore.
I’m also excited about the prospect of OnePlus applying its Oxygen OS magic to Wear OS. The company’s entire marketing shtick is based around “speed”, so I imagine it will want to make as many optimisations as possible whilst adding new features. Wear OS performance has improved in recent updates, but OnePlus will go one step further.
The biggest performance boost OnePlus will be able to deliver is in battery life. This is where the Chinese company’s optimisations will matter. Offering a high-end, bright display and Fitbit levels of battery life (up to four or five days with the right settings) whilst competing with Apple’s hardware is a challenge I’m confident OnePlus will meet. Adding its Warp Charge technology to this combination will be a potent mix.
Porting over the company’s “flagship killer” premium design principles to the new watch is also a tantalising prospect. I have no idea what the device will look like, but I’d be willing to bet it will avoid aping the Apple Watch design (like the Oppo Watch did). OnePlus has developed its own distinct style down the years and I’m interested to see how that manifests as a wearable.
What’s truly important, though, is how focused the device is. By that, I mean can OnePlus create a watch that focuses on delivering core functionality perfectly, rather than doing lots of stuff just for the sake of it. Samsung already has the latter covered well.
In typical Samsung style, the Galaxy Watch 3 – which is a very accomplished smartwatch – has features that help you manage your stress levels or monitor your water intake. It’s all a bit much. I don’t need another device that nags me to do things I already feel guilty about not doing, nor do I need constant alerts and notifications. There are already enough digital distractions in life. These add-on features exist as demoware in my mind, because they’re not vital to day-to-day life.
Quietly improving everyday life with small, unobtrusive, enhancements is the true goldmine for manufacturers. Your wearables should improve and enhance, rather than distract and frustrate. A good example of exactly this is the OnePlus Buds’ ultra low latency mode, which automatically activates when gaming on a OnePlus phone.
Whilst we wait for Google’s Assistant-focused Pixel Watch to materialise, I can see OnePlus filling the gap it is currently leaving behind. Whilst OnePlus won’t be able to tweak Wear OS to be more Assistant friendly, it can optimise in other areas like battery life, ecosystem connectivity and unique features. If the Chinese company can do all of that at a low price, as it likes to do, then we may have the standout Wear OS watch we’ve all been waiting for.
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