If the next version of Android Wear does its job, you'll be futzing with your smartwatch a lot less.
Google on Wednesday unveiled Android Wear 2.0, an update to its wearable software that promises a streamlined experience focused on what it believes watch users really need. That means smarter messaging, apps that anticipate your needs and better compatibility with iPhones. The update is expected to roll out in the fall.
The update to Android Wear comes as Google attempts to play catch-up with the Apple Watch, which leads the market for smartwatches, according to IDC. A majority of the watches sold by No. 2 Samsung run on Samsung's own operating system. Google is hoping that the combination of a smarter interface and compatibility with rival Apple's iPhone will help it regain some momentum.
At the crux of that is Google's concept of "complications," or watch-speak for widgets that show your current step count, your stock prices, your next appointment, or any other data you choose. "You can have data from any app on any watch face," Android Wear team leader David Singleton said in an interview.
Complications are now going to be a standard part of Android Wear watch faces, and app developers barely need to be involved to make them work, Singleton said. As long as they include data that might be useful at a glance, users will soon be able to make that data appear on the face of their watch, no matter which face it might be.
Apps will also work to anticipate your needs better with Android Wear 2.0. Before, if you went on a run, you'd have to launch an app and select an activity before you start. But Android Wear 2.0 can automatically launch apps like Strava as soon as it detects that you're exercising, and you may not even need to hit the Run button. "I literally just get up and start running," said Singleton.
Once you're done, a revamped Google Fit fitness platform will tally up your burned calories and share them with any other fitness apps running on your device.
Don't want to carry a phone on your run? If you buy an Android Wear watch with built-in LTE, the new software will allow watch apps to directly access the internet. You'll be able to download apps from a store on the watch itself, reply to text messages and make calls, stream Spotify music directly to the watch or pass it to a set of Bluetooth headphones.
It should also mean you'll have a much easier time using an Android watch with an iPhone. The direct internet access means developers don't need to build a companion iPhone app or wait for Apple to approve. They can simply built an Android watch app that works identically on both platforms, according to Singleton.
Messaging also got a revamp. If you want to reply to a text message or email while you're on on that run, you'll have a couple new ways to do it. There's a new swipe-friendly touchscreen keyboard with autocomplete options, and a handwriting option that'll let you trace letters one at a time, each letter making way for the next. In a demo, product lead Jeff Chang only had to type "do" and "dinn" to say "do you want to get dinner?" Autocomplete took care of the rest.
Other additions to Android Wear 2.0 include a new way to scroll through apps by circling the edge of the display with your finger (which could cut down on fingerprint smudges) and a darker themed user interface to help save on battery. But the big changes to Android Wear are all about improving things people already did on their wrists. They don't necessarily attract new people to smartwatches in the first place.
To do that, there will need to be "a diversity of sizes, shapes and styles" of watches in the market, because with fashion, choice is key, Singleton said. He's hoping that new hardware partners such as Casio, Fossil, Michael Kors and Nixon will bring Android smartwatches to new and different audiences.
Android Wear 2.0 will first be available as a developer preview this week. Google says it will be up to hardware partners which watches will receive the update this fall, but Singleton believes there's no technical reason why they couldn't all get the new software.
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