After faults on the Facebook phone, get ready for a Facebook Watch

Here’s a statement that should fill everyone with optimism: Facebook is building an Android smartwatch! That is according to a new report from The information, which says the watch should hit the market next year.

Sources tell the information that the watch will be a stand-alone device that is able to connect to mobile networks without connecting to a smartphone. The report makes it sound like Facebook wants to build its own smartwatch ecosystem, saying the device “will let carriers send messages using Facebook’s services and also offer health and fitness features.” The information later added that “Facebook hopes to highlight features that leverage its social networking capabilities, such as allowing users to track their workouts with friends or communicate with their trainer,” and that Facebook “plans to let the device connect to the services or hardware. of health and fitness companies, such as Peloton Interactive. “

Will the project be successful? Let’s just say that every word in the phrase “Facebook Android smartwatch” is cause for concern. Excluding the acquired Oculus VR division, Facebook’s hardware efforts have not fared well. The closest previous project to a smartwatch is the Facebook phone, aka, HTC First. Facebook and HTC teamed up in 2013 to design a smartphone using HTC’s hardware and Facebook’s software. Facebook made a custom Android skin with a new, Facebook-centric home screen and a few other additions. The phone lasted a month on the market. Facebook’s newer, less historically catastrophic hardware effort is the Facebook Portal line, which is a series of video chat devices available in several smart display form factors and as a set-top box for your TV. These did not sell well in the normal market, but when the pandemic hit, Portal TV out of stock along with all other video chat devices.

Counterpoint's H1 2020 Global smartwatch market share.
Enlarge / Counterpoint’s H1 2020 Global smartwatch market share.

Counterpoint research

Android does not have much of a future in smartwatches. Google’s smartwatch-focused version of Android, WearOS, seems like a dead platform that has only caught on 10 percent of the global smartwatch market in the first half of 2020, according to the latest report from Counterpoint Research. There is no developer base for WearOS because sales are so low. All gadget manufacturers like Samsung, LG, Huawei and Motorola have fled the platform, leaving only the fashion brands to fight over the scrap. Google seems to have abandoned the development of the platform as well last major WearOS update will be released in 2018.

It is not clear if Facebook will actually use WearOS for this smartwatch. The report states that “[t]his watch would run on an open source version of Google’s Android software. “WearOS is not open source, so making a WearOS watch will involve signing an agreement with Google and complying with its requirements. If the report is updated on the esoteric licensing of Android source code, it sounds like Facebook will reject Phone Android and make its own version of Android-for-smartwatches, removing unnecessary features.Facebook will then be responsible for running an app store, creating developer APIs and a million other Things.The information also falls with a fun treat about, that while the first versions of the smartwatch run some derivatives of Android, “Facebook is also working on building its own operating system for future hardware.”

An important driving force behind WearOS ‘failure, which Facebook will also have to reckon with, is that Qualcomm has historically not been as interested in supporting a smartwatch ecosystem with hardware. Qualcomm launched its first smartwatch SoC in 2014 and then went six years before releasing a new smartwatch chip that could be considered a major upgrade. The mid-2020 release of the Snapdragon Wear 4100 means that Facebook currently has a decent but not-so-good option for a smartwatch chip, but it is not clear whether Qualcomm intends to revamp that chip for another six years, or whether it plans to actually enable year-to-year improvements of the smartwatch now. Apple and Samsung both make their own smartwatch SoCs, which are not for sale to other manufacturers. If you are looking for a smartwatch SoC to buy, it is Qualcomm or bust.

The smartwatch market is completely dominated by Apple, which according to the same Counterpoint Research report has 51 percent of the global smartwatch market. The rest of the smartwatch market is a bunch of struggling vendors with bespoke operating systems, all under 10 percent each – companies like Samsung, Huawei and Garmin.

The information says that Facebook’s smartwatch push is part of a larger plan aimed at “controlling the next computer platforms for smartphones.” In the smartphone era, Facebook is at the mercy of the two major providers of smartphone operating systems, Google and Apple, where neither of them has a particularly good relationship with Facebook. Google is a rival of Facebook in terms of user tracking, platforms and ads. Apple’s push for privacy (which it sees as a key difference between Android and iOS) has led the company to directly attack Facebook. If Facebook owned the platform, it would have much more freedom to do what it wants – freedom that is likely to involve tracking users.

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