Google has finally unveiled Android Wear 2.0, the latest platform for smartwatches. The first set of watches to be powered by Android Wear 2.0 are LG Watch Style and LG Watch Sport, which will start rolling out in the US from February 10. Europe and Asia launch will follow later in February via the Google Store and select retail stores.
With Android Wear 2.0, Google is putting the focus on new features, which has always been a concern with smartwatches, no matter what the platform. For most users, the novelty of a smartwatch wears off, once you realise the number of things you can do on it is limited. Plus, the watch is still tethered to the smartphone. Google is hoping to change that with Android Wear 2.0 to some extent.
The focus is on more informative watch faces, improved fitness features, more apps, and the Google Assistant. For starters, Android Wear 2.0 will now show appointments, stock performance, fitness goals, or whatever else is deemed important by the user on the watch face. On the fitness front, it will track “weight-lifting reps, in addition to push-ups, sit-ups and squats,” along with the usual steps, pace, heart-rate, etc.
Cellular powered Android Wear watches will now have the ability to take calls, messages, stream music, which will be seen as an important addition by many. But perhaps the big addition is Google bringing more apps to Android Wear 2.0 with the new “on-watch Google Play Store.” Apps will now be installed on the wearable, and won’t require a smartphone to open. Instead it can use Wi-Fi or mobile signal to receive notifications or use data.
Apps like “AccuWeather, Android Pay, Bring!, Foursquare, Google Fit, Google Messenger, Google Play Music, Lifesum, Robinhood, Runkeeper, Runtastic, Strava, Telegram, Uber and others” will now work on Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches.
Additionally, users will be able to dictate, type, draw an emoji for messages on the watch itself. There’s also the option of writing out your answer, though how convenient it will be on a small screen remains to be seen. Google says it will work with apps Facebook Messenger, Glide, Google Messenger, Hangouts, Telegram or WhatsApp, so it is covering all the important messaging apps. Remember the Apple Watch, Samsung’s Gear S3 (on Android) already let users do this.
The way you interact with Android Wear has changed as well. There’s a redesigned app launcher which looks better on circular screens (we’re not sure how it’ll look on older square devices), this is revealed with a press of a button. Now swiping from right to left will reveal different watch faces.
Google has also updated the quick settings panel. It’s now accessed from the bottom of the screen, and will provide you with shortcuts to settings such as brightness and volume.
Android Wear now supports rotational inputs, that could take the form of a bezel (a la Samsung Gear S3) or Crown (a la Apple Watch). This should make navigating the UI a bit easier, and stop the huge amounts of swiping previous AW devices required.
Finally, Google Assistant will come to Android Wear 2.0 platform, which was expected, given the search giant wants its machine-learning powered voice-assistant on every device. Assistant will work like it does on Pixel phone or Google Home; users will be able to ask questions to the watch, ask it to make restaurant reservations, set up shopping list reminders, or navigate to work all with their Watch. For now Google Assistant will be available in English and German on Android Wear.
For Android Wear 2.0, more apps on the watch itself might mean enhanced use cases, and could free the user from relying on the phone for every little notification or action. For instance, if an Uber can be booked quickly via a command to the Google Assistant on the Android Wear watch, it would mean less dependence on the phone.