LG’s Mystery Smartwatch At CES Is Actually Running webOS

The smartwatch market is finally starting to gain some traction. Samsung is shipping smartwatches that run its own Tizen operating system and numerous OEMs (including Samsung) are shipping smartwatches that run Google’s Android Wear operating system. And we can’t forget that the Apple Watch will soon hit the market (as soon as March, according to 9to5Mac) running Watch OS.

LG was one of the first to hit the ground running with Android Wear, launching the G Watch in June. The company followed up shortly with the more premium, better-looking G Watch R, which also ran Android Wear. However, Google doesn’t leave much room for differentiation with the operating system with Android Wear, and other than differing physical designs (square or circular) and customizable watch faces, the user experience is largely the same from device to device.

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LG's webOS smartwatch (Source: Android Central)

LG has shown some signs that it’s willing to field an alternative to Android Wear, and this past October announced the availability of the webOS SmartWatch SDK beta. Since then, LG has been pretty tight-lipped about its smartphone aspirations with webOS… until now. This week at CES, a mysterious LG smartwatch was making the rounds during Audi’s keynote address and at the Audi booth. Most folks initially surmised that the smartwatch — which looks like an even more premium version of the G Watch R, with a stainless steel housing, sapphire crystal covering, and leather strap — was running a modified version of Android Wear.

However, closer examination shows that the device is actually running webOS. The smartwatch, which features the model designation LG-W120L, is powered by a Snapdragon 400 processor and has its own built-in cellular modem (like the Samsung Gear S) which connects to T-Mobile’s wireless network. Android Wear devices currently don’t have the capability of placing or receiving calls without the help of a companion smartphone (and neither will the Apple Watch), so this gives LG another bullet point to tout as a differentiator in the smartwatch space.

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(Source: Android Central)

But what’s most interesting from the videos showing the device in action is that this build of webOS for smartwatches looks near production-ready. Animations are fluid, there are functioning apps, and everything in general looks very polished.

“We’re going to slowly try to build an (software) ecosystem around areas we can have more control over,” said an unnamed LG representative at CES in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

But just because LG has webOS in its back pocket doesn’t mean that Android Wear will get the boot. When LG does launch webOS smartwatches in early 2016, they will be featured alongside their Android Wear siblings.