Tech companies are shifting up a gear when it comes to software, so Google has to make sure it’s not stuck in the slow lane.
News about software updates generally takes the form of that proverb concerning London buses; you wait an age for one to arrive, and then two show up at once. These past few years that’s been the story with WWDC and I/O representing the latest efforts of Apple and Google respectively, but this year we’ve also seen a modest comeback from somewhat of a sleeping giant.
With the release of the Huawei Watch 3, the Chinese brand has returned from the brink following its ban from using Google Mobile Services, and has created an Android alternative known as Harmony OS. In our early hands-on time with the operating system on this wearable we’ve been impressed by its snappy functionality, especially by comparison to Google’s Wear OS, so we’re looking forward to seeing the system in use on mobile phones and more smart devices, since it has been intended from its conception to work across multiple platforms.
The main problem so far is its lack of compatible apps, an issue which will hopefully be resolved as the months go by, and now that Trump-era executive orders against WeChat and TikTok have been dropped the company may even dare to be optimistic about its prospects in the West once again.
Also this week, WWDC introduced us to the next generation of Apple’s software for Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Watch. The changes ushered in to iOS 15 were fairly modest yet useful, with FaceTime and the notifications settings receiving some practical tweaks, while privacy is becoming more fortified than ever. The takeaway point for many fans was that it will still be compatible with the humble iPhone 6S, meaning this device of the 2015 vintage should stay fully up to date until at least 2022.
Strangely however, both of these announcements this week counterintuitively made me think more about the future of Android, whose developers’ conference has already been and gone.
It’s no secret to anyone that Wear OS has been a bit of a disappointment by comparison to the market-leading watchOS software on the Apple Watch, so a worthy competitor like Huawei really could shake things up and benefit the market in general because there are plenty of us who don’t have the funds for Apple’s products (or just have a self-defeating reverse-snobbery complex).
Now, Google has already announced sweeping changes soon coming to its wearables range following a partnership with Samsung (whose Tizen software has been equally underwhelming). But the problem with this, as was inadvertently revealed this week, is that older devices in both Google and Samsung’s ranges could be ignored in the update (possibly even including the Fossil Gen 5, which only came out in 2019). That’s quite a comedown compared to the long-term support that Apple fans know they can always count on.
With this week’s announcements coming thick and fast from two different directions, Google has found itself caught in the crossfire. It will have to adapt to keep pace with its rivals and shut out new or revived competitors, but in doing so it may be forced to leave its older devices behind, in so doing gaining a reputation for flakiness that is unlikely to win over customers. The company needs to settle on software that brings out its best hardware, without abandoning its previous devices every time the wind changes.