Android Wear 2.0 has finally found its way to consumers via two new watches from LG. Months in development, the platform has undergone a hefty refresh, and makes Google’s wrist-worn wearables feature-rich. Here’s what’s new.
Launched alongside Android Wear 2.0, LG’s dual smartwatches are more proof of concept than polished wearables. The ‘Style’ is a simple, no-frills watch, while the ‘Sport’ is bulkier, packing a variety of sensors and cellular connectivity. Each serve Android Wear 2.0 nicely, but also highlight its shortcomings.
Though a digital crown is not necessary for Android Wear, both LG models have it, and Android Wear 2.0 supports it. Due to that, we can expect most new Android wearables to have a crown. As with Apple Watch, the crown is best utilized for scrolling through a menu or longer message. When pressed, it can launch Google Assistant or dive into the app menu.
Developers can now write apps specifically for Android Wear, too. Previously, apps had to be standalone Android apps that happened to have a Watch interface. That’s no longer the case; it’s now possible to bypass the phone entirely.
Apps can also be loaded directly from the watch (if it has cellular connectivity), but it’s clumsy on the small screen. Google Play’s web interface also lets you load apps to the Watch if you really want to leave the phone alone.
Android Wear also supports complications from third-party apps. Just as with Apple Watch, you can get quick-glance widgets for things like your next appointment or the temperature. Complications also launch directly into their parent app on the watch when tapped.
Android Pay is also on Android Wear for the first time, so long as the watch has NFC capabilities. It’s a carbon copy of the Apple Watch/Apple Pay experience; tap a button and Android Pay spins up, ready for your purchase.
Google Fit is also front and center with its own dedicated button on the LG Sport. It’s been expanded to recognize more types of workouts, and can be customized to display things like heart rate during a workout.
Android Wear 2.0 and Developers
Though Android Wear has been in preview for some time, its release represents a pivot for Google. It also means developers will have to shift focus a bit with regard to wearables, as Google has made some significant changes.
Apps and complications for Android Wear will be the biggest draws. Users can now control which apps are on their watch, and those using iPhones can load apps independently of their device. This also means fitness apps compatible with the Google Fit platform can exist entirely on the wrist.
Fitness is a clear focus for all wearables, and Android Wear 2.0 makes Google Fit its hero. Its SDK allows developers to write apps that discover sensors, and help users track and manage data. This can all be done independently of Android proper, which should help streamline the development process.
Keep in mind that Android Wear has its own design principles, which haven’t changed much for Android Wear 2.0. It’s still Google’s Material Design, but optimized for the smallest screen. Notifications now allow full-screen views, which aligns the watch much more closely with Material Design.
Lightness is also going to be a priority. Android Wear 2.0 loads apps slowly, especially if they’re not optimized for the latest version. This is true for native apps as well as those with phone companions. Battery life is also middling on LG’s two wearables, earning roughly 12 hours of normal use.
While the digital crown is supported throughout the operating system, there’s nothing in the Android Wear documentation suggesting developers can tap into it (pun intended). Apple Watch offers a sequencer for the digital crown so developers can understand state and motion instances, but Google hasn’t followed suit. That’s one less thing to worry about on the code level, but disappointing for developers who may have good reason to utilize the crown.
The takeaway for Android devs: Android Wear is now a copycat of watchOS, which is a solid path forward. The thing software can’t address is hardware sales, and analysts suggest Apple Watch is just plain eating Android Wear’s lunch.
Plenty of watches will support Android Wear 2.0, though. Here’s Google’s full list:
- ASUS ZenWatch 2
- ASUS ZenWatch 3
- Casio Smart Outdoor Watch
- Casio Pro Trek Smart
- Fossil Q Founder
- Fossil Q Marshal
- Fossil Q Wander
- Huawei Watch
- LG Watch R
- LG Watch Urbane
- LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition (LTE)
- Michael Kors Access
- Moto 360 2nd Generation
- Moto 360 for Women
- Moto 360 Sport
- New Balance RunIQ
- Nixon Mission
- Polar M600
- TAG Heuer Connected
There’s also the problem of app monetization. Users are generally reluctant to spend money on apps, so monetizing a wearable app is literally a tough sell. The recent emphasis on fitness monitoring suggests that wearables also haven’t found a strong use-case apart from working out, either.
Still, Google makes it simple to get started with Android Wear, and has approachable documentation to get you up and running with an app quickly. New features render it a viable platform for developers, and user-friendly additions like Android Pay just might solve hardware sales issues. At least this time around, there’s reason to be hopeful.