Google Pixel Watch 2 hands-on

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Ahead of Google I/O next month, Google revealed a preliminary schedule for developer sessions.
  • One of those sessions is a preview for Wear OS 5, and it serves as the first official confirmation from Google that a Wear OS upgrade is coming this year.
  • The description for the “Building for the future of Wear OS” session includes a few early details about what the upgrade will bring. 

Google I/O 2024 is quickly coming to the forefront, as the event will start in a few weeks and may bring new hardware and software announcements from Google. The company gave us our first real idea of what to expect when it released a preliminary I/O 2024 schedule on Thursday, April 25. That schedule includes an early confirmation that a Wear OS upgrade is coming soon.

There are four main categories for events at Google I/O this year: mobile, web, ML/AI, and cloud. One of the mobile sessions is titled “Building for the future of Wear OS,” and it explicitly lists Wear OS 5 — the unreleased version of Wear OS previously expected to come this year — as its focus. Back in January, references to Wear OS 5 were spotted in an Android 14 build, hinting that an upgrade was on the horizon. 

Still, there was no official confirmation from Google that Wear OS 5 would be released in the near future. While we expect to hear about upcoming Android updates at Google I/O, Wear OS upgrades are typically released on a staggered and inconsistent schedule. That’s why Google’s announcement has more significance than a typical Google I/O software announcement and bodes well for the future of Google’s wearable ecosystem. 

What we know about Wear OS 5 so far

Google Pixel Watch 2 hands-on

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Surprisingly, Google gave a little bit away about Wear OS 5 in the description for its preview session. “In this talk, we’ll discover the new features of Wear OS 5,” Google says. “This includes advances in the Watch Face Format, and how to design and build for the increasing range of device sizes.”

The Watch Face Format was introduced about a year ago alongside Wear OS 4, and Google explains that it “can be used to build watch faces directly, or it can be integrated into creation tools, allowing designers to create watch faces without having to write any executable code.” It shifted much of the burden of creating a custom watch face — such as optimization, updates, and bug fixes — off of individual developers and onto the Wear OS platform. Additionally, it added a consistent UI for editing watch faces across first and third-party options. 

Wear OS features

(Image credit: Google)

This gives watch face designers a lot of ways to customize their offerings, and pairs nicely with the Watch Face Studio from Samsung, which can be used to create XML-formatted watch faces in the Watch Face Format.

So, Google’s talk about updating the Watch Face Format in Wear OS 5 could bring new features and options to your favorite watch faces. There might be new ways to show complications, adapt a watch face’s appearance situationally, or add new design tools. This is all just speculation, but Google clearly has new tricks available in the updated Watch Face Format that will be showcased at I/O 2024. 

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The one thing we do know for sure is that the Watch Face Format, or watch face design software, will be updated to help developers build for different smartwatch sizes. Google says as much in the description for the Wear OS 5 showcase, and it isn’t exactly surprising. Rumors are swirling that Google will finally add a new, larger Pixel Watch size later this year in the Pixel Watch 3 series. It only makes sense that it wants to make sure Wear OS watch faces will look great on all Pixel Watch models.

We’ve come a long way since Google’s neglect of Wear OS

Wear OS logo on a Fossil Gen 6 watch

(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Forget specific features — it’s a massive achievement that we’re getting a Wear OS 5 upgrade this year at all. Wear OS devices are firmly hitting their stride, with Samsung releasing excellent Galaxy Watch models and Google joining in with the Pixel Watch over a year ago. In that context, it’s easy to forget how feeble the entire Wear OS platform was just a few years ago. 

Looking back at Google’s Wear OS forums, you can find countless examples of early Wear OS users describing the uncertain future of the platform and issues that had gone unresolved for months or years. One post from 2020 asked, “Is Google abandoning Wear OS?” and received support from other Wear OS users before it was locked and replies were disabled. The issue cited in the post? Google had developed a YouTube Music app for watchOS, but not Wear OS. It’s a perfect microcosm of the problems that plagued the dark days of Wear OS. 

Now, it’s rebounding, and Wear OS 5’s release this year may be the start of a consistent annual release schedule for Google for major version updates. That would put it on par with Apple’s watchOS release schedule and would be great news for Wear OS users. The hardware available in Wear OS watches is quite good in 2024, thanks to chips like the Snapdragon W5 Plus Gen 1, but the software still lags behind Apple Watch models in many ways. Now, with Google seemingly going all-in on Wear OS with its partner Samsung, that may be changing for good. 

Brady is a tech journalist covering news at Android Central. He has spent the last two years reporting and commenting on all things related to consumer technology for various publications. Brady graduated from St. John’s University in 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. When he isn’t experimenting with the latest tech, you can find Brady running or watching sports.

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The post Wear OS 5 coming this year shows Google is finally hitting its stride with smartwatches first appeared on

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