When Google's new hardware boss walked on stage for the company's first "Made by Google" product launch in October 2016, he quickly dazzled the audience with smartphones, digital speakers, and more.
Rick Osterloh's pledge that Google was now serious about hardware, despite some past missteps, was backed by the impressive array of gadgets. But one little noticed detail about Osterloh's appearance — his bare wrists — hinted at a weak spot in Google's hardware strategy that continues to haunt the company today.
A Google-branded smartwatch, intended to establish the company as a leader in the nascent wearables market and rival the recently released Apple Watch, had in fact been developed in the lead up to the event. The watch was supposed to be among the gadgets unveiled that day, but was cut from the lineup when Osterloh took the reins of the hardware group, according to one former employee who worked directly on the project.
The eleventh-hour decision not to release the product set Google on an erratic course in the smartwatch market that has included a major name change and left partners, app developers, and customers scratching their heads. Despite being one of the first companies to recognize the potential for smartwatch technology, Google has been relegated to the status of a bit player.
And as the company prepares to unveil its newest line-up of Made by Google gadgets for the 2019 holiday season, Google's smartwatch strategy appears to be stalled.