Smartwatches show the ugly side of ecosystem lock-in

When people ask me which smartwatch they should buy, I always ask them the same question: which phone do you have?

Unfortunately, the phone you have largely determines which smartwatches you can buy. They are not standalone devices. You need a phone to set them up, and as the US Department of Justice pointed out in its monopoly case against Apple, that makes them the perfect accessory for locking people into an ecosystem. If you spend $400 on an Apple Watch and absolutely love it, you’re less likely to give up an iPhone you don’t like.

Apple is well aware of this. The DOJ lawsuit quotes an Apple executive as saying the Apple Watch “can help prevent iPhone customers from switching.” But that wasn’t the case for a long time That serious problem. There were plenty of other fitness trackers that offered a similar experience on iOS, especially when the Apple Watch was new. But over the years, the Apple Watch has dominated as the number one smartwatch in the world. The fact that it is widely regarded as one of the best – if not the best – smartwatches make it even harder to switch. In light of that success, it appears that other major wearable device makers are also deciding to double down on their own ecosystems.

Just look at Wear OS. Before 2021, Wear OS watches worked on both iPhone and Android. Didn’t like the rectangular Apple Watch? Not big. You could buy an attractive Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 with a rounded front. Of course, that would work better with a Samsung phone, but you can still have a great experience with an iPhone. When Google and Samsung joined forces to create Wear OS 3, Samsung’s watches became Android-only.

Whatever! Fossil’s army of Wear OS watches maintained a platform-agnostic stance. Just like other brands such as Montblanc and Mobvoi. Fitbit smartwatches such as the Versa and Sense lines were also available for iOS and Android. Still, it became clear that the writing was on the wall. Third-party Wear OS 3 watches lacked Google Assistant and received updates much more slowly. The Wear OS companion app also disappeared. To maintain iOS compatibility, the onus now fell on smartwatch makers to create their companion apps and ensure they were iOS compatible.

But then came the Googlefication of Fitbit. Fitbit smartwatches were rejected in favor of the Android-only Pixel Watch. When Wear OS 4 launched last year, it was only available on Google and Samsung watches, meaning the latest updates were limited to Android phones. It was starting to look like the companies still making iOS-compatible Wear OS watches were falling behind. To make matters worse, Fossil has since decided to withdraw from the smartwatch market, taking the vast majority of platform-agnostic Wear OS watches with it. Meanwhile, Mobvoi’s latest TicWatch Pro 5 no longer works with iOS. OnePlus also recently launched a new Wear OS 4 smartwatch. It’s also Android only.

Why go to all the trouble to serve customers who don’t want to be lured away?

It’s hard to blame Google, Samsung and other smartwatch makers. The connection between iPhone and Apple Watch has been established so well. Why go to all that trouble to serve customers who don’t want to be lured away? Plus, it’s not like they can deliver the exact same experience even if they wanted to. As the DOJ complaint notes, Apple limits API access to third-party smartwatch makers. Suppose you have a Garmin smartwatch. You can send quick replies if it’s paired with an Android phone, but not an iPhone. This is the case with all cross-platform smartwatches. Whenever I ask companies about this, they give me the equivalent of a shrug and say that’s up to Apple.

Now that the Samsung Galaxy Ring is on the way, I’m somehow afraid that it won’t stop at smartwatches either. We have few details yet, but it would be very easy for Samsung to use the ring as a way to make its phone And smartwatch stickier. To keep people inside From Samsung garden. A recent one Chosun Ilbo The report also indicates that Samsung has plans to integrate the ring with its Samsung Food app and smart kitchen. If the Samsung ring works best with the Samsung watch, and the Samsung watch is Android only… you can see where that road leads.

Realistically, I know many people won’t see what the problem is. “It just works” is a convincing sales pitch, and it is is useful. It’s very hard to argue against a seamless user experience. But for those of us who want more choice, who would like to wear a round smartwatch with an iPhone without specify properties? The use of smartwatches to strengthen ecosystems is a major setback. The DOJ agrees.

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