Technology

Fitbit solved a big annoyance with wearables; why won’t Google or Apple follow?

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

The bane of my existence as a techie is switching my primary phone. I have to set aside a whole day to get things right as I always do a clean install – no backups or restores. I wouldn’t want to transfer any residual bug or issue from one device to another and thus misjudge the new phone.

Between installing apps, logging in and setting preferences, transferring WhatsApp, making sure my Bluetooth headset and earbuds are paired, configuring a smart home gadget that requires geolocation or local control, and more, there is so much to do…until I hit one last roadblock: my wearables.

Switching to a new phone is time consuming before you factor in the annoyance of re-pairing your smartwatch or tracker.

That’s where Fitbit does things right. This allows me to pair my activity tracker or watch to a new phone within a few minutes. Samsung, Google (and all Wear OS watches), and Apple don’t. They require me to wipe my smartwatch before pairing it with a new phone. Why?

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How Fitbit handles pairing with a new phone

That’s the way it is with Fitbit. On my new phone, I open the Fitbit app and sign in to my account. My data is immediately visible there and my band – now an old and beaten Inspire HR – shows up, but is not linked. I tap the name and enable the Near permission to let the app scan Bluetooth devices. It finds my Fitbit, asks me to pair it, and after a few taps, it’s all done. The six screenshots above show the entire flow, which lasts five minutes. At most.

Fitbit offers a seamless transition between phones. No backups, resets or restores.

My Inspire HR is now synced with my new phone and all settings and data have been implemented as nothing has changed on the tracker itself. I don’t need to back up, reset, restore, or take any other extra steps. It’s a quasi-seamless transition, and it works the same way for any Fitbit activity tracker or smartwatch I’ve used.

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As far as I know, Garmin handles things relatively the same way as Fitbit, except for one extra step; you just need to unpair your band or watch from the old phone first before pairing it with the new one, but you don’t need to set it up again.

How Samsung, Apple and Google do it

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 next to Google Pixel 6a with the restore process on the watch

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

With the Apple Watch or the most recent Samsung Galaxy Watch models, the same transition is much more tedious. I have to go to the watch app on my old phone and back up my data. Then I grab the watch, reset it and often have to go through the settings as if this were a brand new smartwatch. Then I can link the watch to my new phone, go through all the menus there and when everything is finalized, I can choose to restore my backup.

Moving a Galaxy Watch, Apple Watch or a Wear OS watch to a new phone is complicated and a total waste of time.

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All in all, this should take me somewhere between ten minutes and an hour. One YouTuber said the most important step of the restore process took 56 minutes on his Apple Watch. And as I write this, I’m going through it on my Galaxy Watch 4. It’s stuck at 33% of the watch face recovery step for ten minutes (see image above); how long it will stay there is a guess. If it doesn’t work, I have to reset the watch a second time and try again.

The whole process is unnecessarily complicated, time-consuming and potentially erroneous. It feels like the late ’90s or early ’00s, when a Bluetooth gadget had to be reset before pairing it with a new device. We are now two decades past that.

It feels like the early ’00s, when a Bluetooth gadget had to be reset before it could be paired again. We are two decades further.

And that’s not even talking about other Wear OS watches. Google doesn’t have a backup/restore process in its platform by default, so watchmakers have to do it themselves. And many clearly don’t. That has forced me to reset everything — watch faces, apps, shortcuts, settings — on many of my watches over the years. (I know there is an ADB workaround to mount without resetting, but this often leads to problems over time.)

Will the Pixel Watch fix this?

New Google Hardware Pixel 7 Pro Pixel Watch

We have so many questions about the upcoming Google Pixel Watch, and this is one of them: How does Google’s new smartwatch handle the transition between phones? Will Google borrow Fitbit’s seamless approach? After all, it now owns Fitbit, so that shouldn’t be too hard. Or will it stick with its tried and true “just set it up from scratch” approach? Again, it’s Google we’re talking about, and it’s taken the company a decade to master (almost) the art of backup and restore on Android phones. It might as well take another decade to do well for other product categories.

Want the Pixel Watch to seamlessly ring and pair with your new phone?

49 votes

I think I’m also curious about the future of Google’s ecosystem. We know that manufacturers will have to build their own apps for Wear OS 3.0 watches because the update is not compatible with the existing one-size-fits-all Wear OS app. So some makers may decide to implement a quick and effortless transition to new phones while others don’t. Time will tell.

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