Google redesigns its operating system to get you looking at your wrist less, not more.
Google is ready to unveil a shiny new version of Wear OS at last. This is the third major release of the platform (the first since rebranding to Wear OS), and Google finally shows an understanding that what people want from a smartwatch is not a phone replacement. They want a reliable daily assistant and coach that is fast and unobtrusive. The new system doesn’t have obvious battery life enhancements, which is still a major pain that the industry has yet to solve, though. It may be up to Google’s partners to figure that out for themselves.
Dennis Troper, director of product for Wear OS, told Engadget that his team focused on three key areas when redesigning the platform — helping people remain connected, providing proactive help from Google Assistant and enabling people to lead healthier lives.
It may sound a little counterintuitive, but Troper believes helping people remain connected will free them up to be more present in the real world — a goal that ties in neatly with Google’s recently launched Digital Wellbeing initiative. It’s the company’s way of trying to make people aware of how much time they spend on their phones, allowing them to set time limits for specific apps and disconnect. Android P devices can even go grayscale as a cue that users should be winding down and maybe getting ready for bed.
Here’s what you will see on your watch using the new system, starting from the main watchface:
- Swipe right: Google Assistant feed of information
- Swipe left: Google Fit’s new fitness-tracking rings
- Swipe up: notifications
- Swipe down: Quick Settings shortcuts
- Long press on the watchface: change watchface
- Short press the main button: see all apps
- Long press the main button: invoke Google Assistant to ask questions via voice.
Rollout and device compatibility
All existing Wear users with watches on version 2.0 and higher will get the new software when it rolls out in two weeks. Since many devices running the original Android Wear were updated to 2.0, this means almost all of them will get the latest upgrade. There are a few exceptions, like the Moto 360, but “basically everything will get the update.”
Like all major changes, the new Wear OS might take awhile to get used to and you might not even even be impressed by it at first. But give it time: Frank said testers have reported significant increased satisfaction over two weeks. In fact, the company’s own director of engineering apparently didn’t initially like the new notification stream, but came back two weeks later and said to Frank’s team, “This is really good.”
I’m already stoked about how much faster scrolling through notifications is, and I’m sure I’ll appreciate it even more with real world use. One thing I wish I heard more about was battery life. But Google did tease a partnership with Qualcomm at I/O. And the chip maker has a smartwatch focused event planned for September 10th, right around the time Google plans to start rolling out Wear OS. So, maybe we’ll get more info then.
A faster, more helpful Google Assistant
It isn’t just the navigation update that makes things feel breezier — Assistant was a lot faster during my preview of the new Wear OS, too. In my experience, Assistant on Android Wear 2.0 has been excruciatingly slow, though I generally blame poor hardware and WiFi for that. On Frank’s wrist, Assistant was ready to listen at the push of the dial, and transcribed his command “Remind me to tell my son to take in the package” in about a second. It quickly followed up asking when the reminder should be sent.
But Assistant also feels more helpful, because it proactively offers information like details about your upcoming calendar events, commute and weather forecast each morning. You’ll see this laid out on the page when you swipe right from the home screen. It’s also supposed to offer travel and restaurant recommendations, in addition to morning and evening briefings, and Google plans to add more content over monthly releases. Troper described an example: Say your hands are full with luggage and snacks for the road. Ideally, you should be able to very quickly glance at your watch and get your flight status or boarding pass without pulling out your cell phone.