The first major Pixel Watch leak has arrived, and with it, confirmation that Google is ditching reliance on the old pin system for smartwatch bands. The Pixel Watch will have a proprietary band, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Pixel Watch has proprietary bands
In case you missed it over the weekend, the first real images of the Pixel Watch hit the web following a prototype of the device left in a restaurant. The images, unfortunately, don’t reveal anything about the software of this device, but they do give us a lot of information about the physical hardware. The Pixel Watch will have a circular design with a rotating crown emerging from the right side. The display will be a bit bulbous, tapering to meet the frame.
But for now, the part we want to focus on is the bands used on the Pixel Watch. Unlike the vast majority of Wear OS smartwatches released to date and even Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4, the Pixel Watch doesn’t use a pin system to connect the bands.
On the contrary, the system used by Google seems entirely proprietary and a bit halfway between the Apple Watch and Fitbit products. A button on one side of the watch releases bands that seem to slip or snap into place. The latter would be close to Fitbit’s existing system, which also aligns with the “Infinity” clasp design that Google appears to be using on these bands. The main differences in the case of the Pixel Watch versus something like a Versa 3 are that the connector is wider and curved, and there’s a lock inside the watch. The release button is also on the side of the watch rather than underneath like on Versa/Sense.
Don’t Hit It Until You Try It
Of course, the immediate reaction to this was somewhat negative. The classic pin system for watch straps has been a huge plus point of existing smartwatches aimed at Android, as it opens the door to using classic straps from older watches as well as a market of far more options large.
This is an argument with which, personally, I have very much agreed in the past. However, the last two years of regular Fitbit use have really shown me that a proprietary system is far from a bad thing.
In Fitbit’s case in particular, the ease of band swapping far outclasses that of something like the Galaxy Watch 4 or Skagen Falster Gen 6, both of which use 20mm pins. I tend to like to swap out my straps for my primary smartwatch, usually one of the two mentioned, as well as my Fitbit Charge 5. I tend to use fabric straps at home, but I often switch to a leather strap for fancier occasions, especially if I’m wearing a suit, or switching to a silicone strap for days when I’m going to be active. It only takes a few seconds to turn off the band for my Charge 5, but even the quick-release pins on the Falster or Galaxy Watch lead to more time and frustration swapping out items.
This obviously won’t apply to everyone, as there are many people who choose a group and stick with it for weeks or months at a time. But the beauty of many smartwatches is that they fit more than one occasion, and swapping the band for another can be like changing your phone case. It’s a quick and easy way to improve the look and feel.
Google also knows the frustrations that can come with a pin connector. Back in 2016, the company unveiled a system called “Mode” that could use a conventional pin, but a small switch on the band itself allowed the best of both worlds by changing bands. The short-lived standard was never widely adopted and was quickly forgotten. Our Abner Li was also quick to point out that the switch mechanism could be quite uncomfortable on some materials.
Another point worth discussing is how pins limit the look of a smartwatch. A key part of every smartwatch that uses pins is the “lugs” that hold the pin in place and leave room for the strap to be swapped out. It’s a good look, but not one that works for all watches. It certainly wouldn’t work with the Pixel Watch design. For proof of this, just look back to the original Moto 360, which hid its pins in the watch body, requiring a tool to change the bands. and broken bodies in many cases.
What’s the downside?
Going back to 2022, I’m not surprised that Google is done trying pins. Exclusive watch straps are a no-brainer for the Pixel Watch. They’re easier for consumers to use, offer more freedom in design, and they’ll help Google create its own ecosystem. The Apple Watch’s band system has led to people changing bands more often and is certainly a contributing factor to the line’s continued success.
The biggest downside, really, is the risk. If the Pixel Watch doesn’t sell in large numbers or changes connectors every year, third-party straps will be hard to find and expensive. Hopefully adapters will become available soon to allow traditional pin strips to connect to the Pixel Watch. These are certainly easy to buy for Fitbit and Apple smartwatches.
What do you think about it? Are proprietary groups a deciding factor for the Pixel Watch? Let’s discuss it in the comments.
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