Android Wear is due to get a major overhaul.
Google announced at Google I/O 2016 in May that its wearables OS would get a massive update, in the form of Android Wear 2.0, sometime this autumn, but the company later pushed that release date to sometime in early 2017. The delay is likely related to the fact that no big Android Wear partners, such as LG, Lenovo, and Huawei, reportedly plan to launch new smartwatches in 2016.
With no new watches to run or even demo the new software, Google likely thought a delay was best. But to soften the blow, it revealed Android Wear 2.0 will include Google Play Store integration when it launches for consumers.
Here's what you need to know about the feature, including everything else that's new in Android Wear 2.0.
Android Wear 2.0: What is it?
Android Wear 2.0 is an upcoming software update for Android wearables. It will bring a Material Design-themed overhaul, standalone apps, improvements to watch faces, messaging, and fitness, and more. Google has released three major updates to Android Wear since it launched two years ago, but this version brings a number jump that can only mean big changes are coming.
Android Wear 2.0: What's new in the update?
Thanks to Android Wear 2.0, one of the biggest new changes coming to Android Wear is standalone apps.
With support for 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 and be able to do more. Not only is this beneficial for Android Wear users but also iPhone owners, as they'll be able to download apps directly to their watches.
Google said this will result in a "faster, richer on-watch experience." Keep in mind early Android Wear watches don't have Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity, but newer watches will have the fortune of being less dependent on phones.
Google Play Store
Google recently revealed that the third developer preview of Android Wear 2.0 includes a standalone Google Play Store.
That means the final software will let you download apps directly to your watch instead of queuing them on your phone. With this integration, you'll be able to download paid titles and beta tests, browse recommended apps, and search for specific apps. You'll download apps without having to send them to your phone, too, as developers can now develop apps that live just on the watch.
Android's design language developed in 2014 is coming to Android Wear, but this version will be specifically optimised for Android Wear watches. You'll see a redesign of the app launcher that works with round screens, and there's new ways to interact with the app launcher. For instance, instead of a left or right swipe, you'll push the side button to see apps displayed in an arc.
Material design will also add an action drawer to the bottom of the display.
A new Complications API will now let third-party developers include data from other apps on their watch faces.
You'll be able to tweak these watch faces, too, and choose which data you want to show. Google said any watch face will be able to show data from any app. They can show, for instance, your calories burned, steps taken, incoming messages, or whatever. Also, tapping on individual complications will launch the full watch app for more information.
Sounds a lot like Apple Watch complications, right?
The way you can select and change watch faces will change as well, and according to Google, it'll be "fast and fun".
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.
Android Wear 2.0 adds two new input methods: a swipe-style keyboard and handwriting recognition.
The handwriting mode will let you draw out letters on your watch’s screen in order to write messages. Previously, sending messages was much more limiting. Google said it 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 very familiar with...
It gives you the option of three possible responses to quickly reply to a contact. These smart replies will be generated on the watches themselves. And 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.
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 like a running app. Google's also expanding the ways you can listen to music.
Not only will apps will be able to now detect when you begin walking, running, or biking, but because apps can now be installed right on the phone, Android Wear watches with built-in LTE support can start Spotify and stream music from the cloud right to your Bluetooth headset without you having to be tethered to a phone. Also, third-party apps can now exchange data through Google Fit.
That means your Strava cycling data can show up in your Fitbit companion app.
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. We should know more when the software's launch date approaches.
Android Wear 2.0: When will it be available?
Google said it will roll out Android Wear 2.0 to watches sometime in early 2017.