SEATTLE—Four years ago, Google introduced a version of Android designed to work on your wrist. Called Android Wear, the service has weathered changes and challenges and emerges in 2018 with a new name, Wear OS, and a new focus outlined here at the Google I/O developer conference.
Dennis Troper, the product director for Wear OS, explained three pillars Google will focus on going forward: connection at a glance, health and fitness, and the Google Assistant.
Connection at a glance, Troper explained, means getting the information you need from your smartwatch and then getting on with your day. To that end, Wear OS now includes adaptive text sizes, darker backgrounds, and a new font that's easier to read. New complications—the tiny apps that display information on the watch face—such as the recently used app complication let users get to what they need faster, like weather or sports scores.
Health has clearly become a major focus for all wearable devices. For Wear OS, the new Touch Lock feature prevents unwanted interactions while the watch is in contact with water, whether you're running in the rain or swimming. Music controls are also now accessible from the Google Fit workout screen, while the heart rate sensor supports continuous heart rate monitoring and Google Fit displays a resting heart rate.
Perhaps most important is the further integration of the Google Assistant; Wear OS now has an always-present microphone for fast access to it on the wrist, said Wear OS software engineer Tom Rudick.
Swiping up on the mic icon reveals another change: Suggestion chips. These pill-shaped buttons show suggested actions, and appear throughout the Wear OS experience. They also allow physical interaction with the Assistant in situations where voice commands are not available or appropriate. Wear OS now supports text to speech, making it easier to interact with the wearable without ever looking at it.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
Rudick also highlighted how Wear OS supports Google Assistant actions. These are Google's take on Alexa Skills, and let developers extend their apps into the Google Assistant. By supporting them, Wear OS can do anything the Assistant can.
These three pillars, as Troper called them, are a rough outline for Wear OS going forward. And that's a good thing. Wear OS has struggled to find the kind of critical commercial success the Apple Watch and fitness trackers enjoy. By narrowing the vision for its wearable platform, Google is encouraging developers to do what works best for wearables.
Wear OS will also see some changes beyond its mission in Android P. Google's Rati Agrawal said the background restrictions introduced in Android Oreo and expanded in Android P are coming to Wear OS, and will be even more aggressive in pursuit of better battery life and improved device performance.
Also new in Android P is an advanced battery saver mode. When the wearable's battery gets low, the device shuts off all its radios and defaults to a specially made battery-optimized watch face. A short press on device's controls, explained Agrawal, will show the time. A long press will reactivate the Wear OS device, so users can send or receive important messages. The goal, she said, is to keep the watch from shutting down on the user's wrist.
Another welcome change, and perhaps one that foretells Google's continued confidence in Wear OS, is Troper's promise for more frequent updates. "We were able to do 11 releases on the platform," he said, pointing to 49 features launched with those updates. Wear OS is on track to do the same, or even more, this year.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe