Here’s a crazy idea. Maybe Google should submit an Android Wear app to Apple’s App Store—one that would allow Android-based smartwatches to work with the iPhone.
If you believe a report from the French tech site 01net, Google might already be working on one. That said, there’s no particular reason to think that’s true. Google, of course, hasn’t confirmed it (see below), and Apple would most likely just laugh before dropping any such application into the trash anyway.
None of that, however, means that Google shouldn’t pursue Android Wear for iOS. It should, and here’s why.
Why It Should Happen
The overarching reason, of course, is that there’s no good reason for smartwatches to be tied down to any particular manufacturer’s ecosystem. Sure, it suits corporate interests to lock consumers into their own spheres of interest, but from a consumer perspective, it’s far better if the best smartwatch works for anyone without requiring a cumbersome and costly technology switchover.
Google, of course, is more sympathetic to this idea than Apple, given that it really wants users on its own services, most of which already work on iPhones. And today’s rumor isn’t the first we’ve heard of Google’s interest in bridging the gap between its wearable operating system and other platforms.
Back in October, Android Wear product manager Jeff Chang told the Huffington Post: “We would love to have Android Wear reach as many people as possible, but I’ll just say that it’s not 100 per cent under our control.”
Google has also made it possible for apps to support its Google Fit platform on iOS devices. The short answer is that we know Google probably has no qualms about Android Wear devices connecting to an iPhone—and a recent Moto 360 hack shows that it’s entirely possible.
On the other hand, Apple likes to exert plenty of control over its App Store. Before a new app shows up on its virtual store shelves, it has to pass Apple’s sniff test. And Apple’s hatred of Google is historic and epic—though maybe that’s not as true now as it once was (more on that in a moment).
Google could still submit its app as a provocation, if nothing else. That would help Google make the argument that wearables should work no matter what smartphone you happen to use, and to talk up its own willingness to integrate the Apple Watch into the Android ecosystem.
Moreover, there’s plenty of evidence from the last year or so that Apple is becoming more willing to play nicely with others.
Why It Could Happen
Apple and Microsoft joined forces to release Office for iPad last year, something that might never have happened were the Two Steves (Jobs and Ballmer) still ruling over their respective companies. With Tim Cook helming Apple and Satya Nadella finally taking Microsoft in a new direction, the two new(ish) CEOs came to an accord and found a way for both companies to work together. The release of the Microsoft Band a few months later—which works on the iPhone via a Microsoft-made app—points to that new spirit of cooperation.
Apple, of course, has no fitness band of its own, so allowing the Microsoft Band to work on its platform might not have been much of an issue. On the other hand, it’s also had the Apple Watch in the works for some time now—yet Pebble retains a popular presence in the App Store.
If Google came to Apple with an Android Wear app for iOS, it might conceivable get a warmer welcome than you’d expect. Should that happen, it would eliminate any doubt that Apple is Tim Cook’s company now, and no longer Steve Jobs’. That might even open the door for the Apple Watch to connect with Android devices.
Apple could also benefit from cross-platform compatibility, exposing a whole new consumer base with Android smartphones to the supposed glory of the Apple Watch. After all, the original iPod saw a huge boost when Apple allowed users to connect them to Windows PCs. Why shouldn’t the Apple Watch enjoy the same benefits?
Why It Still Probably Won’t Happen
Of course, Apple doesn’t actually need Android or its wearable platform. Last quarter’s record-breaking profits showed the company is doing just fine on its own. In the end, Apple may simply be content to do its own thing, no matter how much Google tries to shame it into openness. Clearly its fans don’t care much about openness one way or the other.
We can dream about the day when we’ll all be able to buy whatever wearables and smartphone combinations we like. But until Apple actually needs something from Google, don’t be surprised if that dream never comes to pass.
Update, 3:04pm PT: A Google spokesperson responded to my inquiry, saying, “We don’t have anything to share on this at this time.”
Android Wear image courtesy of Google; Microsoft Band image courtesy of Microsoft; Apple Watch image courtesy of Apple