Release date and compatibility
Update: We’ve now gone hands-on with the new Android Wear 2.0 platform – check out the updates to the platform that we’ve tried out.
Android Wear 2.0 is the first ‘big’ update to the wearable platform from the search giant since its creation in 2014 – but don’t get super-excited, as it’s only covering three main areas.
There are some changes to the watch faces, additions to the messaging platforms and slight overhauls in the fitness area too.
Cut to the chaseWhat is it? Google’s Android N update to its wearable platformWhen is it out? Autumn 2016What will it cost? Absolutely nothingAndroid Wear 2.0 release date
Announced at Google I/O 2016, Android Wear 2.0 is headed to compatible smartwatches at some point during the autumn season. That means you’ll have to wait just a few more months.
However, if you’re a developer, you can sample an early preview build of the upcoming OS update right now. To do that, head over to Google’s developer page to find out how.
Currently, only the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition and Huawei Watch are eligible for the preview, but keep in mind that you’ll void your device’s warranty by flashing it. (That didn’t stop us from doing it to ours so that we could give you a good look at the beta.)
Unlike Google’s smartphone OS, Android Wear updates usually arrive on all eligible watches at the same point. So, whenever Android Wear 2.0 lands, expect it to be widely available OTA across much of the Android Wear lineup.
Android Wear 2.0 compatibility
Google hasn’t drawn an official line between who will be the haves and have nots for the upcoming Android Wear 2.0 update. But, based on recent statements made by some smartwatch manufacturers on Twitter, it’s not looking good for some of the early models.
As most Android Wear devices run on the same Snapdragon 400 system on chip (SoC), it’s difficult to pinpoint how it’s being decided which watches make it through to the next round and which ones don’t.
In regards to the LG G Watch, it’s lacking a hardware button, a now-essential component of Android Wear 2.0. So, if your smartwatch has a button, it at least has a fighting chance of making the grade.
We’ll update this section once we hear either way from more manufacturers.
Certain smartwatches, like the Moto 360 (2015), Fossil Q Founder and LG Watch Urbane, currently offer limited compatibility on iOS. While we’ll take what we can get, it is admittedly a bare bones offering.
Will Android Wear 2.0 bring about broader and more feature-packed compatibility to iOS? It’s hard to say at this point and Google hasn’t spoken of improved compatibility. The company’s focus is, obviously, getting things spiffed up on Android first, but we hope that its smartwatch platform will continue to make headway on iOS, as the Apple Watch is one of the very few viable wearable options.
Improvements and changes
Google is likely to introduce new features and adjustments to Android Wear 2.0 before it ships in the autumn, but here are the most noticeable changes that we noticed.
Updated Android Wear faces
With Android Wear 2.0 you’re now able to customize most of the watch faces out there with complications from your favorite Android Wear apps.
That means if you’ve got a fancy-looking analogue face, you can add in small widgets to tell you what’s coming up on your calendar, stock info and notes on what’s next from your to-do list.
In the developer preview, not every watch face offered support for complications, but we’re unsure whether that will be the case when it officially launches.
In actual use, this seems a little bit of a faff to get into – you’ll need to choose a random face, open the menu with a long press and then choose complications. What’s confusing is that you’ll need to tap Android Wear to get into the system widgets, but when more apps are installed (like Strava) you’ll get different options to play with there.
If you need to get more information, just tap the widget and you’ll be taken straight into the app from the home screen – not just shortcuts any more, but actually useful.
The UI is also enhanced, with more minimal, muted colors and a darker theme to help conserve battery life, and it definitely looks a bit sleeker too.
While the facility to take calls and see messages on your watch has been around for a long time now, Android Wear 2.0 updates things to bring both smart replies and upgraded handwriting recognition.
The smart replies are actually improved with an onscreen keyboard, so you swipe through and it can work out what you’re trying to say. There’s no easy way to add in punctuation, although you can peck in a comma if you’re really desperate to, but most of the time you’ll sound like a lazy teenager in replies.
The smart replies are generated by Google Assistant, which will take a look at what’s been said and give you the most likely replies to easily tap and send off.
After that, you can clumsily sketch in big letters or numbers to send an easy reply to the recipient, although you won’t be able to send them a long diatribe easily.
The text is recognized automatically though, and when we demoed the option it was very accurate – again, another example of Google’s machine learning coming to the fore.
Will you be doing it all the time? Of course not. But it’s a good option to have in the arsenal.
You can also reply on the go without a phone if you’ve got cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity – although you’ll need to have a data-based messaging app like Hangouts (or Allo when it lands) to make it work.
Better fitness tracking
This is probably the biggest update to the Android Wear platform: your apps can now pass information to one another using the Google Fit framework. That means you can track the calories you consume with one app, then find out how many you’re burning with another, unrelated one.
And you can now leave your phone at home when going for a run, as you won’t need it for a lot of the things you’d normally use it for. While disappointingly there’s no directive to make all Android Wear watches come with GPS, you’ll be able to stream music on the go if you’ve got a cellular connection on your watch.
In fact, all apps will be able to run almost natively on your Android Wear watch – the apps can be ported across easily, with developers just needing to make the program work on the smaller screen and having an Android Wear input method.
That means you’ll be able to stream music from Spotify on the move – although we’re still waiting to find out whether you’ll be able to cache tracks to the Android Wear 2.0 device in case, like most of us, you don’t have a 3G-enabled timepiece.
There’s also automatic activity tracking, so in theory your watch will be able to tell whether you’re cycling or running, and instantly start up the right app – Strava was highlighted in the presentation, so you’ll never forget to track a little trot around the park again.
With Android Wear 2.0, watches can be standalone, which means they can have direct access to the cloud via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or a cellular connection.
That means a fast watch experience for both Android and iPhone users. If your watch is cellular-enabled, you’ll be able to make calls, make Google searches and use your favorite apps even if the phone is off.
There’s no word on whether you’ll need new hardware to use Android Wear 2.0, but we’ve just spoken to Google and there will be a minimum spec.
What does that mean for your current Android Wear device? That’s currently unclear, as the Googler we spoke to did hint that some watches might not make it through if they’re a little older – although there is an appetite to support all devices if possible.
We couldn’t get a definitive comment on what the minimum spec will be, as this is still being nailed down before the final release later this year.
However, we’re sure to see new devices running the OS later this year if Google is still trying to breathe life into it.
A deeper look at the interface
Have any features that you want us to check out in more detail? Let us know in the comments below.