Things are very different in Android Wear 2.0.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been using Google’s watches from day one or you’re just now thinking about adding a computer to your wrist, Android Wear 2.0 is a big deal. It’s a massive shift in how Google views wearable computers, and this software update is paired with several timely hardware releases over the next couple of months. While some remain skeptical this OS reboot is going to push Google into dominance of the smartwatch world, there’s still plenty to be excited about.
Here are five big things you need to know about this new Android Wear OS, to prepare you for its arrival on wrists everywhere.
Your existing watch is probably getting updated
If you own an existing Android Wear watch, there’s a good chance your manufacturer has announced plans to update your watch. The current list of watches ready to be updated is significant, and in several cases are already preparing to release to users.
Not every watch will be updated, because some of the very first generation watches are running slower processors that simply couldn’t handle the new software, but the number of watches being prepped for update right now is significant.
Android Pay is here, but only for one watch
One of the bigger features people are eager to see is Android Pay on their Android Wear watch. The ability to pay for things by pressing your wrist to the terminal is exciting, especially if Android Pay is well supported in your area, but it’s not a feature that can just be activated with a switch flip.
You watch has to have an NFC radio in it to use Android Pay, and currently the only watch with that feature built in and ready to be used for payments is the new LG Watch Sport. There will be other watches in the future to support this tech, but if you were hoping your existing watch would have the feature added this isn’t great news.
Apps live on the watch now
Most Android Wear users are familiar with sidecar apps, which let you access basic features from apps on your phone by using a smaller version on your watch. This worked well in the past, but Google wanted apps to be able to act entirely independently of the phone so a change was made. In Android Wear 2.0, this means watches are installed firstly on the watch through a version of the Google Play Store that is also on the watch.
On top of making it possible for Android Wear owners with iPhones to have the exact same experience as everyone else, Google has created a compelling argument for a watch that can completely replace your phone for extended periods of time. Cellular watches aren’t as popular now, but with the ability to use them independently we may see that trend change quickly.
Performance is just about the same
A big question about updating to Android Wear 2.0 is performance. On the phone, Google’s OS updates usually come with some king of performance promise. Sometimes that means apps load faster, sometimes that means the OS itself uses less battery, but there’s usually some kind of improvement.
In out tests on the Huawei Watch running the Android Wear 2.0 Developer Preview, there were no obvious differences in performance. The same basic use case revealed roughly the same battery consumption and app load times as the previous version of Android Wear. You can expect a similar experience on your watch when it is updated.
Google Assistant needs some polish
The big new feature everyone does get with Android Wear 2.0, no matter what watch you have, is Google Assistant. For many Android Wear owners, this will be their first encounter with Google Assistant. That should be a great experience, in general, but it’s going to take some getting used to.
In many situations, Google Assistant on Android Wear isn’t instant yet. The act of “listening” for your commands takes a second to fire up, and because most watches are using phones for data the process of sending information to Google for an answer can take an additional second or two. It’s still a great experience, and will absolutely get better over time, but it needs some optimization before the service is truly running smoothly on these watches.