Upgrading Old Smartwatches to New Wear OS May Be Impossible

The Fossil Sport smartwatch.

You may need to buy a new smartwatch to experience Google and Samsung’s collaborative Wear OS revamp. New evidence suggests that the upgraded Wear OS will require more powerful chips than what existing Wear OS devices run on, a problem that stems from Qualcomm’s neglect of the wearable chipset market.

As far as we know, Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 will be the first smartwatch to run the new Wear OS. It will likely feature a 5nm Exynos chipset, the first wearable processor developed by Samsung since 2018. That’s a massive leap in hardware—which Google and Samsung will need if they want to seriously compete with the Apple Watch.

But here’s the problem. Existing Wear OS devices run on chips that are nearly a decade old. In an interview with CNET, two executives from Fossil stated that the company’s existing watches, including the 2020 Fossil Gen 5 LTE, won’t get the new Wear OS. After some backlash, the company “clarified” itself with a vague statement that doesn’t clarify anything.

Our product and engineering teams continue to innovate on the Gen 5 and Gen 5E smartwatches, which will result in new software features being launched later this year and into next year … Our policy is to bring the maximum amount of innovation that Google will enable to each of our generation of smartwatches. Future upgrade plans are still being developed, and we will continue to make announcements later this year.

Anyway, if the relatively new Fossil Gen 5 LTE doesn’t get the Wear OS upgrade, then it’s probably a hardware limitation. After all, the Fossil Gen 5 (and most other Wear OS devices) run on a 28nm Snapdragon Wear 3100, one of the most cutting edge smartwatch processors from 2014.

As Ars Technica points out, Qualcomm has failed to support the wearable market over the past decade. The Wear 3100 wasn’t a great chip when it launched in 2014, and since then, Qualcomm has only released one new smartwatch processor, the 12nm Snapdragon Wear 4100. This fancy Wear 4100 chip is 2.5x faster than its predecessor, but do you want to guess how many watches use it?


Yes, a single Wear OS smartwatch uses the year-old Wear 4100 chip. Every other Wear OS device uses a chip that’s at least 7 years old. Maybe that explains why Apple is ahead of the game, and it could explain why Google is turning to Samsung for help with Wear OS.

Until Samsung unveils the new Galaxy Watch 4, we won’t really know if the new Wear OS has certain hardware requirements or not. But there doesn’t seem to be another explanation for Fossil’s recent statement, or for the powerful 5nm Exynos chip behind Samsung’ first Wear OS device.

Sources: Ars Technica, CNET, Android Central

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