Android Wear smartwatches have seen sales soar over the last two years, which is testament to the fantastic work OEMs are doing. There really are some excellent devices out there now, but they all have one thing in common: The current version of Android Wear leaves much room for improvement. Thankfully, however, that will be addressed soon, with a software update called Android Wear 2.0 coming to select devices.
Android Wear 2.0 was announced at Google I/O 2016. It was initially supposed to launch in late 2016, but Google announced in September that they were delaying the launch until “sometime” in early 2017, for reasons undisclosed. Instead, Google extended its developer preview program for Android Wear 2.0, leading us to assume that the new software simply wasn’t ready for a 2016 launch (and fair play to Google for wanting to get it perfect).
Android Wear 2.0 will be making its way to Android Wear smartwatches in early 2017. We estimate that it will start rolling out in January or February. Here’s the low-down on the best Android Wear 2.0 features to expect:
Android Wear 2.0: Standalone Applications
The most important feature that Android Wear 2.0 will bring is standalone apps. Currently, Android Wear devices rely on a smartphone to download and in cases run an application for them (unless the app is pre-installed), and Android Wear 2.0 will change that by allowing applications to be installed directly onto Android Wear devices and by allowing them to run natively on a device. This is also an important update for iPhone users who are interested in an Android Wear device, because the iPhone won’t be needed to access features (currently, iPhone users can’t make full use of Android Wear because of poor cross-compatibility - although that compatibility is still better than an Apple Watch with an Android smartphone).
Android Wear 2.0: Better Notifications
One of the biggest gripes we hear about Android Wear is the notification system, which can take over a smartwatch display with Cards. In Android 2.0, these Cards will be more manageable and the notification system itself has been overhauled. Now, Android Wear devices will show smaller icon notifications instead of large messages.
Android Wear 2.0: Better Messaging
Smartwatches were never intended to be communications devices; being able to send messages, and make quick phone calls on them, is simply a perk offered by them. But, there’s no getting over the fact that sending messages on an Android Wear device right now sucks, so it is pleasing to know that Android Wear 2.0 will bring with it a better messaging system, with a new keyboard and handwriting recognition. Google has also opened the door for third-party keyboards on Android Wear which should bring some sweet innovations.
Android Wear 2.0: Better Fitness Features
Android Wear will finally take fitness seriously in the 2.0 update. Android Wear devices will now be able to automatically recognise when you start an activity and they will be able to then launch an application automatically to suit. Google will also allow third-party applications to sync with Google Fit, so for example, your Strava application will be able to sync with your Fitbit app so that you can see all your data in a single, preferred application.
Android Wear 2.0: Independent Play Store
To download an application on an Android Wear device right now, you must first download the app onto your smartphone through the Android Play Store. This is inconvenient, and even more crucially for us, it disconnects you from the smartwatch experience. Android 2.0 will address this with its very own Play Store, which will allow you to install apps directly onto your smartwatch. This means that you will no longer be tethered by your smartphone when you want to download a new application onto your smartwatch.
Android Wear 2.0: New Material Design
Unfortunately, the Android Wear 2.0 update still won’t let OEMs customise the software on their devices, since Google wants to avoid the mish-mash of Android on smartphones, but there is good news - Android Wear 2.0 will rock a new material design. The makeover will be based on the latest software found on Android smartphones, or more specifically the Google Pixel. It isn’t a cheap copy and paste job though, because Google has designed the new software specifically for Android Wear 2.0 and round screens. One of the main usability improvements is that there will be an action drawer at the bottom of the display, which you can access to view context-specific actions just like you get on an Android smartphone.