Android Wear 2.0 has been formally and officially launched, with Google pulling the covers off the new smartwatch software along with two new devices built in partnership with LG - the LG Watch Sport and the LG Watch Style.
Android Wear 2.0 has been a long time coming. First shown off at Google I/O in May 2016, it's taken nearly a full year to launch, a year that's seen a marked absence of AW device launches. That's now all set to change, with new Android Wear 2.0 watches waiting in the wings.
We've spent some time with Google taking a look at the new Android Wear 2.0 software and here's everything you need to know.
Here's a brief rundown of the best new features of Android Wear 2.0:
- New darker design
- Standalone apps
- Native Google Play store
- Better notifications
- Messaging with quick replies
- On screen keyboard
- Fitness challenges
- Android Pay
- Google Assistant
- Rotational input support
Android Wear 2.0: What is it?
Android Wear 2.0 is a software update for Android wearables. It will bring a material design-themed overhaul, standalone apps, improvements to watch faces, messaging, and fitness, and more.
The is the biggest single update to the software platform since it launched and it takes Android Wear in a new direction that's more mature, more considered and more fully featured.
Android Wear 2.0: What's new in the update?
New darker design and menus
Android Wear wasn't the prettiest user interface. In fact, the backgrounds to some of the cards looked a little cartoonish and the overall design quickly felt rather dated - especially compared to more sophisticated platforms like Samsung Gear and Apple Watch.
Android Wear 2.0 has a much more mature visual appearance, using a much flatter design and there are no gawky signposts in the background. The new UI has been designed to be darker with the aim of reducing the battery drain and there's a new main menu that lists apps. This can be scrolled using the crown on the new LG watches as there's now support for rotational input on AW2.0 - but watches could also use a rotating bezel like the Samsung Gear S3 in future.
The new menu will let you favourite your top apps so that they are always at the top of your list for quicker access.
Watch faces and complications
Watch faces are now more customisable and easier to change. Rather than long pressing on a face to change it, you can just swipe across the face to move to something different. Want a different watch face for work or home? That's just a swipe away.
A new Complications API will now let third-party developers include data from other apps on watch faces too. You'll be able to tweak watch faces and choose which data you want to show - like steps, stock prices, or instant links to contacts or your favourite apps.
The complications you add will match the style of the watch face that you've chosen so nothing looks out of place. Tapping on a complication will take you through to that app for the full experience.
Standalone apps and Google Play
One of the biggest new changes coming to Android Wear 2.0 is standalone apps.
You will longer need your phone nearby to use apps on your Android Wear device, because instead of requiring a tethered connection to your phone, it will communicate through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or cellular network. In the older version of Android Wear you could still use apps when out of range of your phone, as long as that phone was connected to a network - now your phone doesn't need to be turned on at all.
The LG Watch Sport launches with LTE, meaning it can be completely independent, but a huge change is putting the Play Store on the watch itself, meaning you can install apps directly to the watch. Not only is this beneficial for Android users but also iPhone owners, as they'll be able to download apps directly to their watches, with the limitations of iOS getting in the way.
This also means you'll be able to go straight to Google Play on your Android Wear device and browse apps that are designed specifically for the watch.
This new level of independence will mean that you could stream music through your watch via LTE, or take calls when you're out running - with no need to have your phone with you.
Here's a list on confirmed standalone apps for Android Wear 2.0 that will work for both Android and iPhone users:
- Android Pay
- Google Fit
- Google Messenger
- Google Play Music
Card notifications in Android Wear tend to cover watch faces and and make the software feel cluttered, but Android Wear 2.0 will change all that.
When you see a card notification, the watch face will show smaller icons instead of massive space-hogging messages. When you raise your watch to activate it, it will pull up a card notification, then hide it, and you can swipe up from the bottom to go sift through notifications. A progress bar will appear at the bottom, revealing how many cards are left in the stack.
The cards have also been redesigned. You'll see light text on a black background instead of dark text on a white background, again designed to reduce the drain on the battery.
There are smarter alerts too, aiming to give you timely reminders about things you might have forgotten, or to alert you to the travel time to your next appointment.
Android Wear 2.0 adds two new input methods: a swipe-style keyboard and handwriting recognition, which is in addition to the spoken and emoji drawing options that already exist.
Android Wear 2.0 will offer its own native keyboard, but it's also allowing third-party keyboard apps for you to choose from. You'll even have access to new Smart Replies, which Gmail users should be familiar with, so rather than tapping out a reply on tiny letters, you can swipe and tap the words that are suggested.
There will also be smart suggestions for replies. These smart replies will be generated on the watches themselves so they should be fast, rather than needing to be returned from a cloud server. Finally, responding messages no longer means you have to swipe to another screen, because with Android Wear 2.0, you'll be able to tap on the message and view more data before deciding on sending a smart reply or whatever.
This messaging experience isn't just limited to Google apps - it will also work with the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Google has improved fitness in Android Wear 2.0. It is getting automatic activity recognition and a Google Fit API so data can sync with third party running apps, meaning that you should be able to sync your data to your favourite platform, like Strava, even if you've used the Google Fit app to gather it.
Google Fit is expanding, offering more activities, but also wanting to make your Android Wear device more useful, with things like pushup or squat challenges - with the watch able to not only advise on form, but measure your performance too.
Android Pay is now also supported by Android Wear, although you'll need to have a watch with NFC, like the LG Watch Sport. On the Watch Sport Android Pay is linked to the bottom button for instant launch, meaning you can press the button to enter Android Pay and then tap your watch on a compatible contactless payment terminal to pay.
Like the Android Pay app, you'll also be able to swipe through cards so you can pay with the right account, meaning you can tap and go.
Interestingly, it looks like you can use Android Pay as a standalone feature, so even if you're an iPhone user, you can still pay with your watch.
A lot of the original Android Wear experience relied on voice control. That's still there, although the whole platform is now better equipped to deal with alternative inputs, like the swipe keyboard we've just mentioned.
Making the whole watch smarter is Google Assistant. As found in Google Home and the Pixel smartphones, Google Assistant will be there to service your demands, hold contextual conversations to deliver the information you want, as well as take other actions. For example, you'll be able to ask Google to find an restaurant and the navigate you there.
In addition to a microphone, you'll also be able to hear replies through the watch's speaker (if supported by hardware). Best of all, Google Assistant works in English and German, with more languages coming soon.
Android Wear 2.0: Which devices are compatible?
Android 2.0 won't be available for every Android Wear smartwatch. Older devices like the original Moto 360 and the LG G Watch aren't compatible, but many watch models are confirmed to be getting the update:
- Asus ZenWatch 2
- Asus ZenWatch 3
- Casio WSD F10
- Fossil Q Founder
- Fossil Q Wander
- Fossil Q Marshall
- Huawei Watch
- LG G Watch R,
- LG Watch Urbane (1st and 2nd gen)
- Michael Kors Access Bradshaw
- Moto 360 (2nd gen)
- Moto 360 Sport
- New Balance RunIQ
- Nixon Mission
- Polar M600
- Sony Smartwatch 3
Android Wear 2.0: Which new devices are coming?
Several manufacturers and watch makers will be releasing new Android Wear smartwatches over the next 12 months.
LG has designed the LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style in collaboration with Google and these are the launch devices for Android Wear 2.0. The LG Watch Sport and Style will be available from 10 February in the US and will be coming to other regions soon after.
Android Wear 2.0: When will it be available?
Android Wear 2.0 officially launched on 8 February. The update to existing devices will be made available by Google on 15 February, although those manufacturers will have to run compatibility tests to ensure that everything works correctly. We'll be keeping a running log of all the updates that get announced.