How Fossil Keeps Its 18-Month-Old Smartwatch Feeling Like New

Fossil’s Gen 6 smartwatch line is nearly 18 months old, but you wouldn’t know that from the company’s CES 2023 push. Fossil has found ways to make the Gen 6 line feel more relevant than ever, namely by updating it to Wear OS 3 and launching new editions like the Wellness version and a hybrid E Ink model.

Keeping those watches fresh is important at a time when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a platform-agnostic watch that doesn’t encourage you to commit to an entire ecosystem. Apple, Samsung and Google all position their smartwatches as complementary products to accompany their phones, earbuds and other products. Fossil is one of the biggest brands that still makes watches that work with Android or iOS devices and supports Google’s Wear OS 3 software.

“This is a very relevant platform for some time to come,” said Brook Eaton, Fossil’s vice president of product. “We did a Wear [OS] 3 update when we launched the [Gen 6] Wellness Edition, we did another update that was pretty meaningful in December.” 

These efforts are also critical because Fossil’s Gen 6 line runs the risk of otherwise feeling outdated with the arrival of Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon W5 chips. The Gen 6 line, comparatively, runs on the older Snapdragon 4100 Plus chip from 2021.

Eaton also said quarterly updates are planned for the Gen 6 line along with security updates, but he could not discuss whether a Gen 7 model featuring a newer chipset is in the works. However, he did say that the Wear OS 3 experience found on the Gen 6 will carry over to future watches. That means future Fossil watches will continue to be compatible with the iPhone and Android.

Google Assistant support is also still in the pipeline for Fossil’s watch. The Gen 6 currently uses Alexa, but Eaton said Fossil is working with Google to get the Assistant working. Fossil’s app makes up for other Wear OS 3 features, such as fitness tracking, that aren’t included on the Gen 6. (For now, the only Wear OS watch that includes Google’s Fitbit for fitness tracking is the Pixel Watch.)

The Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid Wellness Edition uses an E Ink display.


Fossil

Fossil isn’t the only smartwatch maker keeping its devices fresh with new software. Rival Mobvoi is in a similar position. It plans to update the $200 TicWatch E3, which also runs on the Snapdragon 4100 Plus, to Wear OS 3. The Montblanc Summit already runs on Wear OS 3 and offers iOS and Android compatibility. But it starts at $1,290, making it way more expensive than the $299 base price for Fossil’s watches. Meanwhile other Wear OS rivals like the Pixel Watch and Samsung’s Galaxy Watch series have remained Android-only watches, even though earlier Galaxy Watches have supported the iPhone.

The Falster Gen 6 Smartwatch, which is a rebrand of the Gen 6 for the Skagen brand.


Fossil

Fossil has also rebranded the Gen 6 watch and its accompanying app to accommodate sister brands like Diesel and Skagen, which is another way the company is able to keep making the Gen 6 look new and different despite being otherwise identical on the inside. Apps used by the Diesel and Skagen versions of the Gen 6 have been customized to appeal to the audience that typically purchases watches from those brands, says Eaton. These include aesthetics like the color scheme and messages in the “For You” section that direct users to a brand’s social media and shop. The apps are otherwise functionally identical.

Fossil’s watch collaboration with Razer, which was revealed at last year’s CES, is an exception to this approach. Unlike the Skagen and Diesel versions of the Gen 6, the Razer version syncs with the regular Fossil app but includes Razer-specific watchfaces.

Smartwatch makers without a branded phone are dwindling

Even though Apple and Samsung currently dominate the smartwatch market, efforts from companies like Fossil are worth monitoring precisely because they aren’t trying to lock customers into an ecosystem of phones, watches and earbuds. That’s becoming increasingly rare with other smartwatches. 

Pixel Watch vs. Galaxy Watch 5

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5 (left) and the Pixel Watch.


Lexy Savvides/CNET

Fitbit’s cross-platform compatibility always kept me coming back to its trackers and watches. Fitbit products still work with the iPhone and Android. But Google’s efforts to bridge the Fitbit and Pixel Watch experience make me worry that you’ll need one of their Android-only watches to get the best Fitbit experience in the future. 

Samsung also used to support both iOS and Android with their Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Fit line. But as Samsung has grown more focused on cultivating its own Galaxy ecosystem of devices, it’s removed iPhone compatibility from its watches. It even locked the watch’s ECG feature to Galaxy devices only.

Aside from Fossil, Mobvoi and Montblanc, Amazfit is also continuing to support both the iPhone and Android using its own proprietary Zepp operating system. This means less app support, but its watches are able to claim a 14-day battery life that’s significantly longer than the one- to two-day battery life found on the Apple Watch, Galaxy watches and Pixel Watch. 

A view of the inside of a smartwatch, with each layer extended from the other, showing the W5 chip above a circuit board.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon W5 chip is the company’s next-generation silicon for wearables that extends battery life and supports cameras.


Qualcomm

What’s next for Wear OS watches

Even though Fossil has found a way to to keep the Gen 6 going, smartwatches running the next Snapdragon chip optimized for wearables are on the way. The Snapdragon W5 is said to extend battery life by a day beyond current watches and offer more functionality in low-power mode as well as support for camera-enabled features. 

But there’s no date announced for when watches supporting these chips will hit the market. That in itself might be a big reason Fossil is hoping to get more runway out of the Snapdragon 4100 Plus chip and its Gen 6 lineup. 


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