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The Google Pixel Watch 3 could steal this Apple Watch feature

A person sitting down and wearing the Google Pixel Watch 2.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Google is readying an upgraded wireless connectivity suite for its upcoming smartwatch that improves location tracking accuracy and helps with remote device unlock. The folks over at 9to5Google took a peek at the code of the latest Play Services app update and found mention of ultra-wideband (UWB) for device unlock.

The Google Pixel Watch 2 already offers a device unlock feature that keeps your smartphone unlocked as long as it is close to your smartwatch. Built atop Bluetooth-based proximity sensing, this system creates a “trusted device” pair, which essentially tells your phone that you are nearby (courtesy of the watch on your wrist) and keeps it in an unlocked state.

Pixel Watch Active Unlock representation.
Google

This feature has rolled out widely for all Wear OS smartwatches and, in my recent tests, worked flawlessly on the OnePlus Watch 2. However, Bluetooth has its own set of limitations, including lower bandwidth and less precise location finding. That’s where ultra-wideband fills the gap, allowing centimeter-level accuracy for device proximity detection.

Apple has been shipping UWB facilities on its smartwatches for a few years now while also serving them on AirTags and phones dating as far back as the iPhone 11. Google’s Pixel and Samsung’s top-end Galaxy phones have had UWB as well. But in the Pixel Watch’s case, it hasn’t been deployed for keeping your phone unlocked.

Apple Watch unlocks an iPhone.
Apple

That might change with the Pixel Watch 3, thanks to the developments described above. Specifically, the app’s codebase mentions UWB ranging for Active Unlock. Google calls this feature Watch Unlock, sand it sets a baseline at Android 13 and the Pixel 4a or one of its successors. So, what’s the benefit of bringing UWB to the Watch Unlock feature?

The code suggests it would be faster and more accurate. There is already some precedent for that in Apple’s ecosystem. A healthy bunch of Apple devices, including the Apple Watch, come with a dedicated UWB chip to allow Precision Finding. The chip allows the Apple Watch to offer distance and direction guidance so that it can find other misplaced devices with a UWB chip inside.

With UWB tech likely getting enabled for the Pixel Watch 3, the Watch Unlock feature should theoretically work better. However, keep in mind that this is just a code change and could very well be dumped when the final device makes it to the shelf, owing to factors such as performance considerations, market restrictions, and cost efficiency.

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Nadeem Sarwar
Nadeem is a tech journalist who started reading about cool smartphone tech out of curiosity and soon started writing…
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