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Android Wear 2.0 – What’s Changed?

It’s finally here! Almost 2 years since the original Android Wear OS was released, Wear 2.0 brings a whole array of improvements, new features, tweaks and fixes. But what has changed exactly?

Material Design – Wear 2.0 style

Starting with the most noticeable change off of the bat, the Wear UI (User Interface) has finally taken on the Material guidelines, however Google have had to optimise them for watch sized/shaped screens as opposed to smartphones and tablets.

Not only have the design guidelines overhauled the visuals, they’ve also improved the way you interact with your watch. You’re no longer left simply swiping at your watch screen aimlessly, trying to find the app drawer – now you can click the button on the side of your watch to bring up the app drawer in an “arc”.

App Drawer - Wareable.com
Image from Wareable.com
Watch faces

Android Wear has never really been known for it’s vast library of Watch Faces. In order to have a more functional watch face, you typically had to download a third party app such as Facer or WatchMaker. Then came “Interactive” watch faces, but these were EXTREMELY limited in functionality and didn’t provide a huge benefit to a watch face.

Now though, Google have introduced “Widgets” for your watch face. Essentially what this allows for is third party apps to display content/data on your watch face via the Wear 2.0 API.

ANDROID PAY!!!

This one is really simple to cover – NFC is now supported in watches! Finally catching up to Apple & Samsung’s implementation, Google are now supporting NFC in Wear 2.0. This will allow for contactless payments via your watch (if it has NFC built in).

Google Assistant

You’ve been able to speak to your Android Wear watch from day one, however voice control/interaction is now much more finely tuned and fully featured with Google’s new Google Assistant. It’s simply a case of saying “OK Google”, or clicking the button on the side of your watch, to initiate conversation with Google Assistant.

Standalone apps

Standalone apps are a major change for the way watches function. No longer do you need to pair your smartphone with your watch to download/install/use applications. Wear 2.0 now supports 3G/4G/LTE (cellular data), as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which means apps will sync and update without reliance on a nearby phone.

You’ll be able to download these apps from the:

Wear Play Store

The Wear Play Store will act similarly to it’s mobile counterpart – you can download and install apps to your watch that will allow independent operation away from your phone. As long as you’ve configured Wi-Fi/data on your watch… you’re good to go!

This will also mean less apps installed on your phone, buried away in a folder (if you’re anything like me). The apps will be installed directly to your watch. If you’re running an iPhone with an Android Wear watch, you’ll be able to download and utilise the whole suit of Wear compatible apps, as opposed to just the ones that have been developed for iOS/Wear compatibility.

Android Wear 2.0 Play Store
Image from the Android Developers Blog
Fitness tracking

Most people that really care about fitness data probably haven’t invested in an Android Wear watch for it’s fitness tracking data. I’ve always found that, at best, it’s glitchy and most of the time half of my day is missing!

Google are really investing Wear 2.0 development time in tracking some proper fitness data though. Still installed by default, the new iteration of the Google Fitness app will now track individual activities (such as, running, cycling, press ups, jumping jacks etc.). With most people listening to music whilst working out, Google have now also included the ability to STREAM music that’s not stored on your watch within the Google Play Music app… without the necessity for your phone. All you’ll need now is a set of bluetooth headphones and your watch while you’re on the treadmill, no more worrying your phone is going to jump from your pocket.

Messaging

“Messaging? On a screen that small? How and why??” I hear you cry! Fear not, Google have put some degree of thought into this! A native keyboard has (finally) been built into the Wear OS. There’s also scope for this keyboard capability to be opened up to third party developers, allowing for typed input on your watch.

There’s also then the “Handwriting Recognition”. This essentially allows you to draw single letters on the screen, which then get converted into a typed counter-part, building your message slowly but surely. It’s worth noting that most people probably aren’t writing messages from their watches, but it’s great to know you have it there if needed.

Summary

These changes are all pretty significant. Google seem to have put a lot of thought and effort into these new features, along with the vast set of bug fixes (although I’m still yet to see if pairing a watch with my iPhone means that the battery on my watch doesn’t run down at 1% per second).

What do you think? Is there something Google has missed from this release? Is there something they’ve not implemented properly? Leave a comment or shout at me on Twitter.

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This is not a sponsored/paid review. All opinions are entirely my own and unbiased.

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Will Stocks

As a career "IT person" and technology enthusiast, I've been around technology for over 8 years now. From enterprise-grade hardware to consumer equipment, IT Support to Systems Administrator - I'm passionate about all forms of tech, learning how it works, integrates and the scenarios in which different people would use them. I started willstocks.co.uk in 2017 and have also contributed to other websites around the Internet.

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