Google’s formally pulled the wraps of the most significant update to Android Wear since the company launched its wearable operating system back in 2014 and we got to take an early look at what Android Wear 2.0 brings to the table.
Android Wear 2.0 - What’s New: The approach
Speaking with David Singleton, Google’s VP of Engineering, he explained that the aim for the team developing Android Wear 2.0 was to analyse and refine the principle features existing Android Wear users interacted with most frequently.
It seems that smartwatch usage, at least when it comes to Android Wear, centres around three key elements: watch faces, messaging and fitness.
Android Wear 2.0 - What’s New: Watch faces
Singleton described the watch face as “the place where you express your own personal style and passion” and with that in mind watch face in 2.0 are now wholly customisable. From a cosmetic standpoint, you can long-press on the screen to swap out the hands, finger or other details, with regards to both style and colour, whilst a new complications API opens up support for a wealth of new glanceable information.
Almost any metric can be pulled in from a third-party app, letting you keep tabs on alternate time zones, exchange rates, fitness data or even control your Nest thermostat.
In addition, Google expects users to have multiple watch face configurations for different situations and so to complement this, changing a watch face can now be achieved simply by swiping left or right.
Android Wear 2.0 - What’s New: Messaging
Android Wear has let you perform searches or respond to messages in various ways for a while now. Originally with canned responses and later, drawn emojis followed by voice-to-text.
With this latest update, Google is finally allowing both handwriting and keyboard input with a predictive engine to streamline typing and a smart reply system to offer up suggested responses relevant to the context of the incoming message.
Android Wear 2.0 - What’s New: Fitness
As we saw when Pebble moved into its second generation of wearables, Google has placed a greater significance on the health and fitness capabilities of Android Wear 2.0. Google Fit now helps you set an activity goal and will push out reminders as you work towards it, although Google was quick to highlight that such notifications will be infrequent and unobtrusive.
The software can now also natively recognise a wider range of activities; from walking, running and hiking to stationary pursuits like strength training, treadmill running and stationary cycling. It can even count your reps and make suggestions to improve your form or combine indoor and outdoor run data to pick up a more accurate reading of your stride length.
A new ‘7 minute workout’ app will also be able to relay activity progress audibly using an integrated speaker (incompatible watches) or paired Bluetooth headphones.
Android Wear 2.0 - What’s New: Interface
Alongside improving those three key pillars of interaction, the 2.0 update makes significant changes to the look and layout if Android Wear.
In the pursuit of lower power consumption, the UI relies far more readily on darker elements. Google's clean Material Design language has been refined and its layout bears more of a resemblance to full-fledged Android, with a swipe down from the top now playing host to quick settings, including a more readily accessible toggle for silencing notifications, along with grouped notifications.
The apps list is now directly tied to each watch’s principle hardware button and rearranges itself based on frequency of use, but if desired, you can long-press to favourite apps, which will then remain pinned to the top of the list.
Rotational input is now natively supported too, a new feature realised with the LG Watch Style’s rotating crown, but a feature that could also be paired with a rotating bezel, akin to designs found on Samsung's Gear S2 and S3 smartwatches.
Android Wear 2.0 - What’s New: Apps
Whilst Android Wear already packs a number of native experiences, users have had to peruse a dedicated section of the Play Store via their smartphone to download new apps, typically linked to apps running directly on the phone, Android Wear 2.0 changes this arrangement in the most significant way.
You’ll now find a local Play Store running on your AW 2.0-based wearable, which shows compatible apps and best of all, many of the experiences that would have previously relied on a companion app can now run as standalone instances, directly on your watch.
This also opens up greater functionality for Android Wear users who’ve paired their wearables to an iOS device - a recipe that previously restricted functionality as there was no way to directly access the Play Store.
Android Wear 2.0 - What’s New?: Android Pay
Along with ensuring there’s native cellular radio support, you’ll start to see Android Pay functionality appearing on the next wave of Android Wear watches.
Provided you’ve set the service up on your smartphone with an active card, smartwatches packing NFC will be able to operate as a contactless payment method in much the same way the Apple Watch supports Apple Pay. As a security measure, Android Pay will only work when the watch is being worn.
Android Wear 2.0 - What’s New?: LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style
When an update as significant as Android Wear 2.0 hits, it should come as no surprise that there’s often some shiny new hardware designed to show it off not far behind. After the relatively quiet smartwatch market of 2016, we suspect 2017 will prove far more vibrant and LG is getting the ball rolling. The company has worked closely with Google to produce two new smartwatches which will launch running Android Wear 2.0, the LG Watch Sport and the LG Watch Style.
The latter is the smallest and most compact Android Wear device ever, with three colour options, premium materials and finishes like leather and polished aluminium and a fully circular custom P-OLED display.
The LG Watch Sport is the bigger, bolder, chunkier flagship offering, which packs in way more tech, to really show what the new software is capable of. Unlike the Style, the Sport features an optical heart rate sensor, NFC, GPS and a cellular radio, with dedicated hardware controls to launch straight into fitness tracking mode.
It also boasts a larger custom P-OLED display, IPX8 water resistance and comes in two colours: Titanium or Dark Blue (an exclusive to the Google Store, at least in the US). LG promises all-day battery life from both the Style and the Sport too.
UK pricing and availability on both watches is yet to be revealed, but they’ll arrive in the US on February 10th with the Style starting at $249 and the Sport at $349. US carriers will also be offering up the Sport with a SIM on a contract, so it’s possible we could see the same in the UK should any carriers jump on board.