Android Wear is soon to receive its biggest update since launch; Android Wear 2.0 was showcased at Google I/O, and it refines Google's attitude to wearables, focusing on three key areas. While it won't see release until the fall, you can find out all the details of the Android Wear 2.0 update below, along with news on the latest version of the Android Wear app.
- Android 1.4 rolling out
- Designer watch faces released
- Android Wear app 1.4
- Interactive watch faces released
- Android Wear 1.3
It's important to note that there are separate version numbers for the smartwatch firmware and the companion app. Although they frequently rest on the same version number, the companion app is usually updated first. Android wear is built on top of the Android OS, so beneath the version number you will find either Lollipop or Marshmallow. Currently, version 1.4 of Android Wear is built over Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
Android Wear 2.0 unveiled
The biggest release for Android Wear yet, version 2.0 brings a more refined approach from Google, narrowing down its aspirations for the technology. While the update won't be available until the fall, we got an in-depth look at what's to come during Google I/O, the company's annual developers' conference.
Most notably, Android Wear 2.0 will be able to run standalone apps, meaning the watch doesn't need to be in range of a smartphone for an app to work. This makes Android Wear more independent, striking out from the impression people have of smartwatches being expensive and unnecessary smartphone accessories.
With cellular support, Android Wear 2.0 will let you make calls, use OK Google, and more without relying on your phone being nearby.
At the I/O presentation, Google outlined its three areas of focus: the watch face, messaging and fitness. Watch faces are to be improved through allowing any watch face to show data from any app.
Messaging sees an improvement through handwriting recognition, smart reply, and a swipe-enabled keyboard. Google placed many of its products at I/O under the umbrella of its machine learning expertise, and here things are no different. All three of these input methods are held up by Google's AI. And, although a keyboard may seem a poor choice of input on a screen so small, Google hopes that its machine learning algorithms are powerful enough to predict the words you want based on just the first letter or two that you enter.
When it comes to fitness, Google is providing interaction between fitness apps through the Google Fit API. This effectively allows apps to exchange information, such as calories burned and consumed, creating a more holistic experience. There's also activity recognition, so when you begin running, this can automatically be detected by a running app, which can begin timing your run, or counting your calories burned, for example.
There's also a Material Design overhaul of the Android Wear interface. This can be seen immediately in how notifications appear.
An Android Wear 2.0 Developer Preview is available right now, with a final build planned for the fall. Find out more about what's new, and how you can get the Developer Preview up and running, over at the Google Android Wear Developers page.
On February 4, Google announced that it is beginning to roll Android Wear 1.4 out to all Android smartwatches, bringing it to the same version number as the companion app. The roll out will occur over "the next few weeks".
The update primarily brings a new set of hands-free options.
You will be able to navigate your watch using gestures such as shaking your wrist and quickly raising or lowering your extended arm – things best not done in public. Voice integration has been expanded as well, following in the footsteps of the app, with support for popular apps like Telegram, Viber and WhatsApp. Finally, there's additional speaker support, which allows you to make and take calls over Bluetooth, assuming you own a watch with a built-in speaker.
Find out all the details over at the Android Official Blog.
You can now add some serious designer style to your Android smartwatch. Google has made nine watch faces from iconic fashion brands available. The range includes designs from Ted Baker, Vivienne Tam and Nicole Miller.
They can be downloaded now from the Google Play Store.
Version 1.4 of the Android Wear app is a relatively minor update. It adds improved voice features, such as the ability to send messages with your voice via WhatsApp and Telegram. It also brings battery life improvements, plus the removal of the battery life graph, which was notoriously unreliable.
A subsequent minor update, version 18.104.22.1680307.gms, reinstated the battery life graph.
In August, Google released three interactive watch faces that introduced a new single tap feature and watch-to-watch communication.
Bits shrinks the time display and surrounds it with circles that contain shortcuts to important information, such as the weather, upcoming events, and steps taken. Pressing these circles expands them, displaying more information.
Under Armor is the fitness watch face of choice. By tapping the watch face, you can cycle through your step count, calories burned and distance covered.
Finally, there's Together, which pairs your watch with someone else's and lets you share photos, doodles, emoji, and what you're up to at the time.
Google has also now set up a separate section for interactive watch faces in the Google Play Store, which boasts a budding collection.
The improvements made by Android Wear 1.3 include Wi-Fi support, emojis, gesture controls and some new screens for app switching and rapid contacts. While not all devices will support Wi-Fi, the rest of the features will roll out to all devices. If you want to know the truth about Android Wear and Wi-Fi, check out our story at the link (and find out why the G Watch R will still get Wi-Fi).
Wi-Fi has lain dormant in Android Wear since the beginning, and flicking the switch will finally activate the full capabilities of some of the current crop of Android Wear smartwatches. This means that even when your watch is out of Bluetooth range, you can still communicate via Wi-Fi.
The only caveat is that not all Android Wear watches have a Wi-Fi antenna (even if they all have a Wi-Fi module on the Snapdragon 400). Don't expect Wi-Fi on the original G Watch or the Asus ZenWatch, for example. The Moto 360, despite being based on a Texas Instruments OMAP3 chip, which doesn't have a built-in modem, will still get Wi-Fi because Motorola was wise enough to add one in separately.
You can now draw your own emoji on the screen of your smartwatch and Android Wear 5.1 will convert it into the actual emoji you were after.
The Android Wear 1.3 update adds gesture controls so you can simply flick your wrist to scroll through the stream (the vertical cascade of screens).
App picker and quick contacts screens
Perhaps the most useful new feature is a new app picker and quick contacts screen, which will appear in a side-swiping list alongside Google actions. When you tap the screen on Android Wear 5.1, you'll first see the app picker; swipe to the left and you'll see your contacts, and swipe left again to be taken to your Google commands.
That's all the key information on the Android Wear 1.3 update. Head below for our previous coverage.
Android Wear and Android Wear app 1.3 update features
Watch battery and storage management
Our friends over at Phandroid got their hands on the new wearable firmware and have shared a wealth of detail about what's in store. The coolest new feature is a section in the Android Wear companion app that lets you manage your smartwatch's battery and internal storage.
They're pretty much identical to the same sections you already have on your phone, but they're nice to have for your watch too.
Bring back dismissed cards
If you've been using Wear you know that you can occasionally get a little carried away with your swiping, and dismiss a card you actually wanted to keep. With the new Android Wear update, you can now recall dismissed cards simply by swiping up to reveal an Undo option.
Watch face management
Android 5.0 Lollipop has an included Wear watch face API, which means you can now customize, switch and manage your watch faces from the companion app. One of the nicest additions to the new faces is that weather icons can now be included on Wear watch faces.
- Got questions about the Android Wear app? Ask on our Android Wear app profile page!
Screen brightness options
This is awesome. I often leave my Wear device at home if I'm going to meet friends or hitting a movie theater, because having notifications constantly lighting up the screen is insanely distracting. Even the ambient glow from my watch face is enough to make people stare, especially in a bar or cinema. Now you can swipe down for a revamped menu screen that gives you options for Theater or Sunlight modes.
There's some other cool stuff too; accessibility settings for those with vision impairments and automatic sorting of menu items based on the most recently used ones, which means no more scrolling all the way to the bottom to get to Settings!
What do think of these changes to Android Wear? What additions would you like to see next? Let us know in the comments.