Google’s Android Wear platform has been around for some time. Despite first announcing an update to its smartwatch operating system in May last year, it is only today that the company is officially launching its next iteration — Wear 2.0 — through a couple of LG smart watches. Judging by what we have seen of the system so far though, Wear 2.0 appears to have been worth the wait.
Google’s Android Wear 2.0 operating system is launching today on two brand new smartwatches, namely LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style. The operating system is expected to follow on other Android Wear watches soon as well, however, we have LG’s newly announced devices to mark our first impressions.
According to Google, launching Wear 2.0 took so much time because of two main reasons. One, the company wanted to build an ecosystem of partners that could bring diversity to the table and towards that end, took traditional as well as non-traditional partners on-board. And two, Google wanted to make sure that it covered all the feedback it had received with regards to the previous iteration of the Watch operating system and ensure that the new iteration made the watch on your wrist, that much more useful.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the more prominent changes that are landing with Wear 2.0.
Make your watch fit the occasion, with a sweep!
Personally, one of the things that have attracted me the most to Android Wear — or smartwatches in general — is the ability to have one watch to fit all occasions. You have a choice of new dials, you can even download more and all it took to make the watch suit your attire or the event was a long press on the original Wear operating system.
Some people may call my thinking superficial, but hey, for me the watch first and foremost, is an accessory. And I would really like it if shelling out all that money got me something that could be worth it. Google appears to concur with the importance of how the dial looks and how informative it can be. Towards that, Google has made switching between multiple watch faces, easier.
Now, instead of having to long press on the watch face to make a switch, Wear 2.0 allows users to simply sweep left and right to get to a new face for their watch. Now I do have some reservations about watch face changing unintentionally, but that is a small price to pay for all the fun you can have with switching between different dials depending on your mood. And lets be honest, swiping is way a more elegant gesture than a long press.
With Wear 2.0, Google is also bringing along a brand new in-built feature that allows you to enable third-party services to project their data on the watch face. So whether it is the battery status or data from Google Fit, or even the temperature from a third-party website — you can have it visible in front and center on your watch face.
Yup. With Wear 2.0, you have a keyboard that works surprisingly well despite the small available maneuvering space. This is due to the fact that that keyboard uses Google’s predictive technology and sort of guesses what button you are pressing — even if you don’t exactly have fingers meant for playing the piano.
As far as the usefulness of this feature is concerned, well, you could use it to send texts from your watch.
With Wear 2.0, get a design that is more material
The Wear 2.0 also highlights Google’s leanings towards the material design approach.
The new system focuses on a card-based approach. Notifications for example, can display preview in a full-screen mode and you can also use either the dial or the watch’s touchscreen to scroll through them.
Standalone applications are finally here
One of the biggest failings associated with most smartwatches, is the fact that they need a companion application running on your smartphone at all times. Google promised that it will take care of the issue with wear 2.0 and it is now holding up to its word.
Developers can now work upon applications that are focused on the watch, without need to code a companion app for it. This is thanks to the fact that the Google Play Store can now be accessed directly through the watch and you can simply download and install applications from there. So for instance, you can also run hangouts or Google Music directly on your watch and leave your smartphone back home.
The feature will take some time to become useful. There aren’t really that many standalone applications available on the Play Store at present and we will have to wait for developers to come up with more ingenious ways of leveraging Android Wear 2.0 and creating apps that can extend the usefulness of the Watch to beyond dealing with notifications.
Meanwhile, you can expect standalone applications for Google Fit, Foursquare, Robin Hood, Runkeeper, Runtastic, Strava, Todoist, Nest and Uber.
Interestingly, Google appears to be conceding the point that smartwatches could do better with a couple of physical buttons. LG Watch Sport for example, has two distinct buttons in addition to a dial and Wear 2.0 lets you easily assign spoecific functions to them.
Google Assistant will now ride your wrist
This is probably one of the bigger additions that are coming with Wear 2.0. You can now call upon Google’s smart voice assistant from the watch on your wrist — that is assuming that it runs Wear 2.0 of course. You can call upon Google Assistant to do pretty much everything that it does on other supported device — including Google Home and the Pixel range of smartphones. Considering that Google is thinking about an ecosystem that has the assistant at its center, this feature could be significantly more useful in the future.
Finally, Wear 2.0 is bringing along smart replies. The feature monitor your conversations and then suggests replies that could be relevant to the situation. Again, the feature is a work in progress and will get better with time and considering the dearth of real estate on android wear, could make for a very valuable addition.
Well, that is pretty much all that Wear 2.0 is brining along. Google’s partners will now be responsible for how well they can leverage the tools that have been put on the table and make their hardware that much more useful. While Wear 2.0 isn’t what you could call era-defining, it is an important update that could let Android Wear compete squarely with the best smartwatch operating systems out there.