The world of Wear OS smartwatches got a lot more interesting this week with the announcement of Google’s first smartwatch, the Pixel Watch. While there’s no shortage of Android-compatible smartwatches, there are relatively few dominant players in this market, especially if you narrow the field down to devices that offer a native Wear OS experience.
While some Wear OS smartwatches like the Moto 360 and Oppo Watch have had some impact, it’s fair to say that Samsung’s Galaxy Watch range is dominating the landscape. Samsung watches are undoubtedly the first devices most people think of when it comes to Android smartwatches, but that could change now that Google is putting its weight behind the Pixel Watch.
It remains to be seen if Pixel Watch will eventually overthrow the Galaxy Watch 5, but its arrival also raises another important question for smartwatch fans: what about the overwhelmingly popular Apple Watch?
Can I use Pixel Watch with an iPhone?
There’s no doubt that the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch for iPhone owners, but it doesn’t hurt Apple’s ecosystem that it’s pretty much the only smartwatch that’s truly iPhone compatible.
Android watchmakers like Samsung used to offer some iPhone compatibility with a third-party Galaxy Watch iOS app. For some reason it stopped doing that a few years ago; The 2020 Galaxy Watch 3 was the last Samsung smartwatch for iPhone users to enjoy. Since then, the Galaxy Watch has been an Android-only affair.
Google doesn’t seem inclined to change that with the Pixel Watch, whose compatibility specs are very similar to the Galaxy Watch 5. In other words, the Google Pixel Watch only works with Android phones and will work Not work with iPhones.
While this seems to limit the choices, it’s not entirely bad. Whether they run watchOS or Wear OS, modern smartwatches are designed as an extension of your smartphone, providing notifications and activity handoff between the larger screen and your wearable.
This requires deep integration with your smartphone’s operating system, so a third-party app can’t do it nearly as well. Smartwatches are significantly more complex than AirPods or Pixel Buds, which despite their advanced features still use an industry-standard Bluetooth audio connection under the hood.
Simply put, Google wants to ensure Pixel Watch owners can enjoy the full Wear OS experience, and that requires Android on the other end. While an iOS app could easily handle the Fitbit-powered health and fitness features, if that’s all you want to do with your Pixel Watch, you can save money by picking up a Fitbit instead.
What about other Android devices?
The Pixel Watch is an ideal companion for a Pixel smartphone, particularly Google’s new Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, for which it was designed with aesthetics to match. However, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t have to own a Pixel to use the Pixel Watch.
Technically, the Pixel Watch is compatible with any smartphone running Android 8.0 or higher. This compatibility is provided through the Google Pixel Watch app on the Play Store. However, keep in mind that you’ll probably get the best Pixel Watch experience if you’re also using a Pixel phone.
This isn’t just reserved for Google either. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 will also work with any Android 8.0 device, but certain features like Samsung Pay will only work if you’ve paired it with a Samsung smartphone. As Google takes a more purist approach to Android, the Pixel Watch will likely have fewer limitations, but there’s still little doubt that Google designed it to work best with a Pixel phone.
The concession to other smartphone platforms has more to do with the openness of Android. Apple Watch only works with iPhone because iPhone is the only device that runs iOS. With Android on almost every other smartphone on the market, there’s no reason for Google to limit its customer base to just its smartphones when it can support a much larger world of Android devices with minimal effort.
Android has always been about offering more choice, and that’s true of the Wear OS smartwatch ecosystem as well. While Google’s Pixel Watch isn’t quite ready to take on Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5, it’s only the first entry. It will be exciting to see what Google has in store for future releases as it continues to expand its pixel ecosystem.