Google announced its long-awaited Pixel Watch on Wednesday, furthering the tech giant’s expansion into hardware. The company teased its first smartwatch during its Google I/O conference but plans to reveal more details closer to the device’s fall launch.
The watch has a domed circular design, runs on Google’s Wear OS smartwatch software and includes some Fitbit health-tracking features. Google didn’t announce a price but said it will be sold as a premium product.
The Pixel Watch represents Google’s first major step into the smartwatch market, which saw shipments grow by 24% in 2021, according to Counterpoint Research. Google is a newcomer to this market. Rivals like Apple and Samsung lead the market and have been selling smartwatches for years. The company views its new smartwatch as being crucial to building its Pixel brand into a full ecosystem of products similar to those offered by Apple and Samsung, spanning smartphones, tablets, wireless earbuds and smartwatches.
“You have your Pixel phone, you have your Pixel Buds, you have YouTube Music,” said Ramon Llamas, a research director for International Data Corporation, a market research firm. “And now all of a sudden, you see this more than we have in previous years, a much clearer head-on competitor to Apple.”
The announcement comes more than a year after Google’s acquisition of Fitbit closed in January 2021. While the Fitbit team is driving the development of the Pixel Watch, Google isn’t planning to merge the two product lines, according to Rick Osterloh, Google’s senior vice president of devices and services.
The Pixel Watch and Fitbit’s lineup of devices will instead complement one another, says James Park, Fitbit’s founder who now leads Google’s wearables division. Those who care about having more traditional smartwatch features like LTE support in addition to health tracking would likely opt for the Pixel Watch, while the Fitbit Charge would be ideal for consumers who care more about fitness and battery life.
“The great thing about combining Pixel and Fitbit is that we’re able to collectively offer these different devices,” Park said in an exclusive interview with CNET’s Scott Stein ahead of Google I/O. “People can pick and choose what’s best for them.”
Familiar Fitbit features like Active Zone Minutes, which measures the amount of time spent in certain heart rate ranges during exercise, will be available on the Pixel Watch. Like many of today’s smartwatches, the Pixel Watch will also track sleep and heart rate.
The company expects to add more Fitbit functionality in the future. “Over time, the Pixel Watch will have the most advanced health sensors,” Park said. “And we’ll be selective on how all those features come across the entire portfolio.”
Unlike the Pixel Watch, which will be Android-only, Fitbit’s products are compatible with iPhones too. Park said the company doesn’t have any plans to discontinue support for iOS users on Fitbit products. “It’s really important for the Fitbit lineup,” he said.
Popular Google apps like Maps, Wallet and Google Assistant will be part of the Pixel Watch, along with refreshed software that should feel “fluid” and “easy to navigate,” according to the company. The watch also has customizable bands and a tactile crown similar to the one found on the Apple Watch.
For Google, launching a new hardware product like the Pixel Watch isn’t necessarily about selling the most units, according to Tuong Nguyen, a senior principal analyst at market research firm Gartner. It’s about keeping people using Google’s apps and services, giving them a more prominent role in our lives. It’s a strategy that’s worked well for Apple.
“The hardware is like a delivery mechanism,” said Nguyen. “And we should, at least maybe in the short to medium term, focus more on what it can do.”
The company didn’t announce pricing, availability, feature details, battery life or other hardware specifics like the watch’s processor, health sensors or display type. These questions will likely be answered in the fall closer to the watch’s release.
Google already holds some influence over the smartwatch market thanks to its ownership of Fitbit and to its Wear OS software platform, which powers watches from Fossil and Samsung, among others. Google will be both a partner and competitor to these smartwatch makers once the Pixel Watch debuts. By launching its first smartwatch, Google will also have an opportunity to showcase what the ideal Android watch experience should be like, just as its Pixel phones do for Android smartphones.
The company is best known for its ubiquitous search engine and digital services, but it’s made a bigger push into hardware in recent years. The Pixel Watch will join Google’s current lineup of phones, smart home gadgets like thermostats and connected speakers, the Pixelbook Go laptop and Chromecast streaming devices. It’s also just one of several new hardware products in Google’s pipeline. The company announced on Wednesday the Pixel 6A and Pixel Buds Pro, both of which will be launching in July. It also previewed the Pixel 7, which will arrive in the fall, and a new Pixel tablet coming in 2023.