The tenth Google I/O hasn’t unveiled a new smartwatch but a huge update to Android Wear, dubbed Android Wear 2.0, will be heading to your wrist this fall.
Aimed at “staying connected to what matters,” Android Wear 2.0 will focus on the watch faces, messaging and fitness. It sounds boring considering that’s usually what updates are for, but the sound of standalone apps should perk you up. Especially if you are an iPhone user.
Read on to learn about everything Google discussed about Android Wear during its I/O 2016 developer conference.
Android Wear 2.0: Standalone apps
This is the biggest change for the Wear ecosystem. Starting this fall, you won’t need your phone nearby to use apps on your Android Wear device. Rather, it will be able to communicate through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or cellular instead of depending on a tethered phone or cloud syncing.
Most Wi-Fi enabled smartwatches can already connect up to Wi-Fi but this is a huge deal for Android Wear watch owners who also happen to have iPhones. It means you can download apps straight to the watch and should make up for the current lack of app support available when paired with Apple’s smartphone.
Android Wear 2.0: Material design
The most recent makeover that Google has given its mobile OS is now making its way onto Android Wear smartwatches as well. But this won’t be a simple cut and paste job. It’s being specifically optimised for Wear watches, redesigning the app launcher and creating something that’s more accommodating for round screens. Elsewhere, there’s now a navigation drawer when you pull from the top of the screen, and an action drawer that will apparently perform specific functions.
Android Wear 2.0: Watch faces
Android Wear has been playing catch up with Apple’s Watch OS in making watch faces more useful. In Wear 2.0, you’ll now be able to view multiple data from different third party apps on the watch face. Think complications on Apple Watch. Now users will be able to have data from Spotify and Google Fit displayed on a single watch face for example and interact with them.
The way you can pick and change watch faces is going to change as well and will apparently be ‘fast and fun’ according to Google.
Android Wear 2.0: Messaging
Sending messages is limiting on the wrist since the screens are so tiny. That should hopefully be alleviated a bit with 2.0’s new input methods. A small keyboard can be swiped to let you type out messages and handwriting recognition will let you draw out single letters or join words to send messages.
Google will be offering its own native keyboard but it also opens the door for third party keyboard apps to offer alternatives.
That’s not all. Now Google is bringing over the smart replies that Gmail users will be familiar with, giving you the option of three possible responses to quickly reply to a contact.
Responding to messages no longer requires swiping to another screen as you’ll be able to tap on the message and view more data before deciding on your next course of action.
Android Wear 2.0: Fitness
Slowly but surely, Android Wear is becoming a better place for fitness lovers. Especially with the arrival of the Moto 360 Sport and our Android Wear fave, the Sony SmartWatch 3.
In the latest Wear update, Google is making big improvements with Google Fit integration including the addition of automatic activity recognition. It’ll be able to open up the relevant apps if you’re going on a run, a walk or a bike ride. If you start cycling, it’ll automatically launch Strava for example.
The most interesting addition though is the ability for third party fitness apps to exchange data through Google Fit. What that means is that your Strava cycling data or calorie burn can show up in your Fitbit companion app.
If you love working out with music, then it’s much easier to launch your workout playlist, whether that’s from Spotify or another music service, straight from the Wear homescreen. Your phone doesn’t even need to be turned on either, which is definitely very cool.
Android Wear 2.0: Notifications
For anyone that already uses an Android Wear watch, they will know how those Google cards have a habit of obscuring the watch faces and making the place a feel a little cluttered. Now things work a little bit differently.
When you get the cards, the watch face will also display smaller icons instead of showing huge messages that take up space. They’ll also be more manageable with a progress bar on the bottom display showing you how many cards are left in the stack.
When you raise your watch to activate the watch, it will pull up the card notification before it hides away again. You will still be able to swipe up from the bottom to go through your notifications as normal, but this should give Android Wear a much cleaner look and feel.
The notification cards on Android Wear have been redesigned as well to show primarily light text on a black background instead of dark text on a white background. According to Google, this should help save battery life and lessen the intrusion of bright notifications.