Samsung and Google can finally challenge the Apple Watch – it only cost them all their existing users

Samsung and Google are essentially starting afresh, leaving all existing smartwatch users high and dry

Samsung MWC 2021
(Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung unveiled One UI Watch at Mobile World Congress (MWC) yesterday, a new operating system, developed in collaboration with Google, designed to make the Samsung Galaxy Watch and smartphone experience more seamlessly connected. 

Sound familiar? That's because it's what the Apple Watch already does perfectly and is one of the main reasons it earned a place atop our best smartwatch list.

Samsung confirmed that the new OS will make an appearance on the next Galaxy Watch and that it will give users access to an even greater number of applications. That will be sweet music to Galaxy Watch fan's ears, as the brand's previous OS, Tizen, lacked the app support seen on the Apple Watch and Wear OS.

This is very much like an Avengers Assemble move, as it brings together Samsung's excellent smartwatch hardware (it's the only brand we've seen come close to the Apple Watch in terms of design and build) with Google's software and services.

I hope that analogy makes sense, as I haven't actually seen that film, but what I'm essentially trying to say is I'm very excited by this new collaboration. 

Samsung MWC 2021

(Image credit: Samsung)

As part of the new 'unified' experience, once you install watch-compatible apps on your smartphone from the Google Play Store, they will be automatically be downloaded onto your smartwatch too.

It's a simple trick, but something Samsung's smartwatches have severely been lacking up until now.

The integration goes even deeper, for example, if you’ve customised your clock app on your phone to show the time in different cities around the globe, this will be automatically reflected on your watch as well, and if you block calls and messages from your watch, they will now be blocked on your smartphone, too.

Samsung and Google have also been working behind the scenes, claiming the collaboration will see better performance (apps loading up to 30-percent faster) and longer battery life.

The presentation goes on to mention more consistent and more accurate heath sensors, which sounds like Google is finally waking up to one of the Apple Watch's killer features. Just read our Apple Watch Series 6 review and see how long we spend talking about blood oxygen monitors, sleep tracking and ECGs. People trade in their Rolex and swap it for an Apple Watch because of the device's life-saving abilities, and it's been an area that Wear OS smartwatches have been gravely absent in the past. It's good to see Google is starting to take it more seriously  – especially if it wants to take the fight to Apple.

Now, the next Galaxy will continue to support its existing services with the likes of Samsung Pay, SmartThings and Samsung Health, but the new OS also opens up the smartwatches to third-party apps from the Google Play Store.

I know all of this sounds like Smartwatch-101, especially if you already own a Wear OS smartwatch or an Apple Watch, but it's big news for those currently on the Tizen wearable operating system.

Samsung MWC 2021

(Image credit: Samsung)

One area where Samsung actually now has the chance to leapfrog Apple is on the personalisation front.

Apple has kept wear OS relatively closed off when it comes to watch faces. Sure, users can personalise their Apple Watch face from a set of stylish Apple-designed templates, but it's still a walled garden.

Samsung is bringing an improved watch face design tool to One UI Watch, making it easier than ever for designers and developers to create new watch faces. Android developers will be given access to this tool later in the year. 

Finally, Samaung revealed that its upcoming Galaxy Watch will be the first to feature the new unified platform and One UI Watch, which will make its debut at the Unpacked event later this summer.

But there's a catch…

There's bad news for existing Samsung Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Watch Active users – you won't be getting this amazing new update. 

Samsung confirmed during the virtual event it will only provide 'up to 3 years of software updates' to current Tizen-based smartwatches before it gives up on the platform entirely.

That not only means that your current smartwatch won't be getting the upgrade and new features, but that Samsung will leave you high and dry in three years time, as the Tizen OS will essentially be laid to rest.

This is a blow to Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 owners, as it means their shiny new smartwatch is outdated less than a year since it was released.

According to SamMobile, it's Google behind this block, as the company is also reportedly blocking existing Wear OS smartwatches from getting the upgrade as well.

Could this alienate whole swathes of current Samsung Galaxy Watch owners? Has Google and Samsung shot themselves in the foot before One UI Watch is already launched? Time will tell…

Spencer Hart
Style and Travel Editor

As the Style and Travel Editor at T3, Spencer covers everything from clothes to cars and watches to hotels. Everything that's cool, stylish, and interesting, basically. He's been a part of T3 for over seven years, and in that time covered every industry event known to man, from CES and MWC to the Geneva Motorshow and Baselworld. When he's driving up and down the country in search of the greatest driving roads, he can be found messing around on an electric scooter, playing with luxury watches, or testing the latest fragrances.