YouTube Music launched on Apple Watch yesterday, coming before an official version of Wear OS and further describing Google’s ongoing issues with competing wearable platforms. The app – available to YouTube Music Premium and YouTube Premium subscribers – mirrors all the same features it launched on iOS, but is now in compact watchOS form. Users can stream, control playback, and even cast music from their wrist, complete with a nice complication for Apple Watch watches.
The Apple Watch landing first reflects Google’s commitment to YouTube Music’s growing audience. Apple still controls half of the smartwatch market, so the show is late in favor of Google. But skipping Wear OS at launch underscores how Google’s platform differs from the start. A small base of installation and slow development of processors from partner Qualcomm has led to Wear OS lagging behind Apple and Samsung competitors for years.
The release of Qualcomm̵7;s newer chips, the Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 4100 Plus, aims to address the speed issues that have plagued previous Wear OS devices. Paired with a Wear OS update this fall focused on streamlined interface elements, it is expected that Google partners will be able to develop devices that are better suited to compete with Apple’s market dominance. Google has also been trying for quite some time to get its own internal smartwatch hardware off the ground, after a failed attempt back in 2016.
That could be where Fitbit, acquired by Google last year, came in. Fitbit’s team has made a great addition to Google’s own, but capturing the trove of former health data is another matter. Barriers to the way the EU closes the agreement and the long-term prospect of merging the hardware teams of the two companies means the release of a real “Pixel Smartwatch” will take more time. Google did not give up on Wear OS, but the path ahead is not clear – and the platform is not growing enough to make YouTube Music more useful than the Apple Watch.