As noted industry leaker Evan ‘evleaks’ Blass suggested on his Twitter page, today Google has finally unveiled the next major upgrade for its Android-based smartwatch OS: Android Wear 2.0. This announcement also comes along with the release of the newest Android Wear smartwatches in the form of the LG Watch Style and LG Watch Sport.
Android Wear 2.0
Personalized Watch Faces
The newest Android Wear update brings in ‘personalized’ watch faces which can pull in various information and variables from different apps. The selection of watch faces also allows for quick switching via a swipe on the watch face, letting users have different watch faces set up and ready for different activities through the day.
Third Party Complications
A complication is defined as a feature in a watch face which displays more than just hours and minutes.
With Android Wear 2.0, watch faces can display extra information without needing code for getting the underlying data. The data is supplied by data providers to any and all watch faces using the Complications API.
This works out to the benefit of both watch face makers as well as app developers. Watch face makers can incorporate data from different apps (like battery level, step counts, calories burnt, weather, time zones and more) as long as the app developer has made provisions for supplying such data through the API. The complication itself also allows the underlying app to be quickly launched and can display information even in ambient mode, so the app developers have plenty of benefits to look forward to as well.
Android Wear 2.0 also brings in improvements in navigation around the UX by simplifying the overall experience. Swiping sideways on a watch face switches the watch face, while swiping up brings up notifications and swiping down brings the settings panel. Pressing on the main hardware button pulls up the simple app list for app launching, while long pressing the button launches Google Assistant.
The update also adds in support for “rotational input”. As the name would imply, this allows the watch to be operated through the watch bezel or the watch crown. Lists are also biased to the sides instead of centered to make better use of rounded displays and make that rotational input more satisfying.
Watch App Store and Standalone Apps
Android Wear 2.0 allows users to choose the apps they want on their watches independent of the choices on their smartphones. The new on-watch Google Play Store showcases apps which are specifically built for the Wear platform and allows downloads directly on the smartwatch by cutting out the phone as the middleman. Moreover, if your watch has cellular capabilities, you can continue using the watch apps without needing your phone nearby.
Standalone Apps are also a big deal for the newest upgrade to the platform. While app functionality would still feature simplistic interfaces for easier navigation on a very limited size display, the workings of the apps would be done on the watch or in the cloud (depending on the functionality asked and expected). The phone is removed from the equation, except for routing data when the watch itself does not have a WiFi or LTE connection available. For most instances, the watch will function as an independent device, to the great benefit of users who would like to leave their phones behind for a while.
As much as standalone apps benefit Android users, it is of even more importance to iPhone users and the iOS platform. By decoupling the need of an Android phone, Android Wear will seek to expand into the territories of the Apple Watch by aiming to be more host-platform independent.
As a bonus, Android Wear is also rumored to be getting a new Google Music App that will allow for music streaming and a new UI.
Android Wear 2.0 is the newest home for Google Assistant, which is a logical jump in our opinion. Voice commands are one of the basic forms of input on a smartwatch, so a personal voice assistant finds a natural environment for interaction on your wrist. You get all the benefits of Google Assistant directly on your watch as long as you are connected to the Internet. On WiFi and LTE, there is no need for a phone, while you do need a phone to route data via a bluetooth connection.
Google Assistant on Android Wear is available in English and German on Android Wear, with Google promising support for more languages in the coming months.
Improved Message Responses
Wear 2.0 also brings in improvements to message responses. A great deal of improvements come from the fact that the watch is no longer considered a mere accessory to the smartphone experience. The watch is now considered capable of its own communications through WiFi and LTE. As AndroidPolice reports, Android Wear 2.0 should improve the reaction times of voice input and transcription.
As they explain, prior Android Wear versions routed all smartwatch interaction data through the smartphone. By making Google Assistant a native feature of Android Wear 2.0, Google has removed the crutches of disability that came in the form of the smartphone over-dependence for the wearable platform. Android Wear 2.0 runs Google Assistant on the watch, allowing faster voice input and transcription, and as a result, faster response times.
Contextual replies, as seen in Inbox and Google Allo, will also play a crucial part in the new Android Wear experience. These improvements will be noticeable on all devices which will receive Android Wear 2.0, and not just the new generation of smartwatches.
Last but not the least, in case you are not satisfied with the current input methods, Android Wear 2.0 also adds in handwriting recognition and a full QWERTY keyboard as part of the OS.
The next headlining feature of Android Wear 2.0 is the addition of Android Pay capabilities to the smartwatch. Sadly, Android Pay does need NFC as a special hardware requirement, which means that it won’t be available in a lot of legacy watch hardware.
On the LG Watch Sport which comes with Android Wear 2.0 and NFC, Android Pay works in a familiar manner as that on smartphones. As AndroidPolice reports, you need to re-add your cards as the watch is registered as a new device. To ease up the pain of input, you can make use of a connected smartphone as an input device.
You also need to setup a lockscreen on your watch as it now holds confidential information related to payments, and hence, calls for added security to avoid accidents. Android Pay needs a lockscreen-unlocked watch to function, but it isn’t as inconvenient as it sounds as Android Wear does a good job at keeping your watch unlocked while it is on your wrist.
To Pay, open up the Android Pay app, select your card and tap and pay on the terminal.
Improvements to Google Fit
Google has refocused on the Fitness aspects of smartwatches with this update. The updated Google Fit on Wear 2.0 offers new exercise options as well as challenges for users. Coupled with the support for additional sensors, the newest Android Wear smartwatches can now track diverse activities with much more accuracy.
Android Wear 2.0 is rightfully the biggest upgrade to the wearable platform. But how the consumers react to the latest update is something that only upcoming sales figures would indicate. Is this update enough to rekindle the fire of owning a smartwatch?