About one year ago, Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google rolled out a new version of its Android Wear operating system for smartwatches. This release brought iOS compatibility, so iPhone users weren’t stuck with just Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Apple Watch. It turns out the new iPhone 7 doesn’t play nice with these smartwatches.
Maybe it’s AAPL’s way of trying to force Moto 360 owners to upgrade to an Apple Watch Series 2?
Last fall, a long-rumored project from Google’s Android Wear team launched. The engineers had managed to build a version of Android Wear — the operating system that powered smartwatches like the popular Lenovo Group Limited (ADR) (OTCMKTS:LNVGY) Moto 360 — that was compatible with the iPhone.
Android Wear for iOS
This was a big deal. And even though the functionality was relatively limited, AAPL couldn’t have been happy about it.
The Apple Watch launched earlier that year and immediately dominated smartwatch sales charts. Clearly, iPhone owners had an appetite for smartwatches that wasn’t matched by Android smartphone owners.
At the same time, there were a growing number of smartwatches running Android Wear that could only be used with Android smartphones. Google’s move meant iPhone owners who wanted a smartwatch could opt for the Moto 360 or other options from companies like LG, ASUS and Fossil Group Inc (NASDAQ:FOSL).
And some did. Those would be the iPhone 7 owners who are now complaining.
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus Incompatibility
Fast-forward a year. Apple’s iPhone and iPhone 7 Plus are now shipping and the Android Wear forums are suddenly full of complaints. Smartwatches that worked perfectly well with an iPhone 6 or 6s refuse to pair with an iPhone 7, effectively rendering them useless.
Android Wear Engineers have now identified smartwatches from a half dozen manufacturers that are affected, including the Moto 360. It’s not iOS 10 that’s causing the problem, since these smartwatches still work fine with older iPhones running iOS 10. That points to a hardware incompatibility, most likely with the iPhone 7’s Bluetooth radio.
If that turns out to be the case, any fix may not be simple. To update its operating system or firmware, a smartwatch typically needs to connect to a smartphone. As pointed out by The Verge’s Chris Welch, that means a potential system update from Google couldn’t be downloaded and installed by the affected users since their smartwatch can’t connect to the iPhone 7.
That leaves tweaking the Android Wear app for iOS (which Google has done several times without success since the issue first surfaced), or hoping that Apple is able and willing to release an update for the iPhone 7. In the Android Wear forums, Google says it has reported the “serious pairing issue” to Apple. In the meantime, as one forum poster lamented, his Android Wear smartwatch is “an expensive paper weight.”
The problem is Apple was never thrilled with Google’s smartwatch move in the first place. Now, with Apple Watch sales down, its big smartwatch market share lead eroding and the new Apple Watch Series 2 just released, AAPL may not be in any hurry to help out Google and its Android Wear smartwatch competition.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.