Android Wear: The essential guide

All you need to know about Google's smartwatch OS, including the 2.0 update
What is Android Wear?

Sure, you know what Android Wear is. You're a regular reader of Wareable – the web's biggest authority on wearable devices.

But do you really know everything about Google's smartwatch OS? Do you know exactly what Android Wear does and how it works, and what the best Android Wear smartwatches are? And do you know the must-have Android Wear apps and all of the platform's hidden secrets?

Do you know that Android Wear 2.0 has just landed?

Fear not, we've got your back if you are unsure of anything Android Wear, so read on and get up to speed.

So what is Android Wear?

Announced at its I/O conference back in March 2014, Android Wear is Google's first dedicated smartwatch OS, based, of course, on the hugely successful Android smartphone platform.

If you want to get techy, Android Wear is based on the same Linux kernel as its smartphone brethren and developers will need the latest version of Android Studio and the SDKs in order to cook up new apps, or amend their current ones for Wear compatibility.

Android Wear: The essential guide

Unless you're developing apps, all you really need to know is that it's a version of Android designed for the smaller screen of a smartwatch and that you will need to be rocking an Android smartphone to make the most of it. You'll also need a phone with Bluetooth connectivity on board but nowadays we'd say that's a given.

The big news is that iPhone users now get to play too, even more so thanks to Wear 2.0. Read our guide to using Android Wear with iOS for more details.

Windows Phone users – sorry, there's no room for you at the Android Wear party. But you didn't really expect to get in, did you? Even with your new brogues on. Not a chance.

Looks aren't skin deep

Android Wear is as pure as the driven snow. There are no skinned user interfaces here and not a manufacturer tweak in sight. For vanilla-OS enthusiasts this is, of course, welcome news and we're sure developers will be delighted too.

It also should have meant that updates were rolled out for all manufacturers at the same time but we've already seen that this isn't quite the case.

The ability to connect to Wi-Fi networks when you're out and about only extends to smartwatches with the right hardware – more on this later. And not every Android Wear watch got the 2.0 update.

It also means that your Android Wear experience will be more or less the same no matter what smartwatch you decide to slap on your wrist and, great news, it means your chosen tech-timepiece will work with any Android handset.

Android Wear: The essential guide

So the LG Watch Sport plays just as nicely with the Sony Xperia phone as it does with the LG G6. 'Manufacturer agnostic' would be the technical way of putting it – 'a welcome relief' is how we'd describe it.

Actually, we did tell a slight lie. Your Android Wear experience may not be quite the same across all devices. And that's because it's an OS designed to work on both rectangular and circular displays – but we'll deal with that later.

That doesn't mean that Android Wear watches aren't unique. Wear 2.0 allows for a lot more personalisation from brands; watch faces, specific apps, custom controls etc.

David Singleton, the man running the Android Wear show for Google, recently told us that "Comparing the first-generation Android Wear fashion watches, to what we're seeing now, you can really see that we've really incorporated a lot of the feedback from these partners so that the watch can feel like a lot more like a watch designed by that company.

"Sure, the apps are going to be the same but every single pixel on the watch face is something the partner has intimate control over. The functions and the watch faces and any apps they want promoted on the device – that's completely up to them."

How does Android Wear work?

Android Wear, being a smartwatch OS, is understandably focused on a couple of key areas – the first being time-telling and the second being notifications.

You might scoff at a time-telling feature but it's probably the thing that you'll use the most. You'll have a number of pre-selected watch faces to choose from – some swanky, some not so swanky (Tag has the swankiest) – and it's as easy as pressing and holding the display to scroll through them.

If you can't find one you like then take a look on Google Play and you'll find hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from.

All existing Android Wear devices are catered for, with round and square designs, and while the initial range back in 2014 was a little limited, Wear 2.0 has really upped the watch face game.

In Wear 2.0, you're able to view data from different third-party apps on the watch face, just like complications on the Apple Watch.

Android Wear: The essential guide

As with the propriety platforms we've seen so far, notifications play a big part of the Android Wear experience. You'll get notified about incoming texts, WhatsApp messages, tweets you're mentioned in, Facebook updates, emails and more. The whole shebang.

Worried that this will all get a bit annoying? Worry not – you can manage the notifications on your smartphone's companion app and you can even blacklist app notifications on your smartwatch itself.

Get used to talking to your watch

Like Google Glass, a great deal of the Android Wear experience is driven by you saying, “Ok Google," followed by an instruction. “Remind me… take a note… send a text… navigate to…" that sort of thing. Especially given that Wear 2.0 added Google Assistant into the mix.

One killer feature is the ability to set preset defaults in the companion app. So, for example, you can select to use the Lyft app when you say, “Ok Google call a taxi," or have Evernote record your thoughts when you say, “Ok Google, take a note".

Android Wear guide

Your Android Wear watch is active as soon as you lift your arm and is ready and waiting for your “Ok Google" instructions.

If you want to dictate messages to send, be aware that you'll need to enable contact recognition through your smartphone's security settings.

More recent Wear smartwatches, like the Huawei Watch 2 let you make and take calls through Bluetooth, and LTE-enabled watches let you do so without the need to be tethered to your smartwatch.

Make sure you also read our guide to using voice commands on your Android Wear smartwatch.

Android Wear app action

We've mentioned apps a few times now so it's only fair we explain just how they work on Android Wear.

On Android Wear 1.x devices, apps are installed through your phone (and the regular Google Play store). Apps that have Wear compatibility will either link up with your smartwatch and offer you control options (such as navigating your Spotify tracks or getting turn-by-turn directions from Google Maps) or present to you a mini app within the watch itself. Runkeeper was a good example of this; it provides a nice tracking UI for when you're out on a jog.

Android Wear: The essential guide

The apps, and default actions, are managed using the smartphone Android Wear app and the good news is that you can have more than one Android Wear device paired up at any time.

However, Wear 2.0 changed the game with standalone apps and a Play Store directly on the smartwatch itself. You don't need to install Wear apps on your phone with 2.0 – just the watch itself – as the newer OS doesn't require the two to be paired.

There are more than 5,000 Android Wear apps, with hundreds of these being of the standalone variety.

Be sure to check out our best Android Wear apps round-up for our pick of the ever-growing bunch and take a butcher's at our step-by-step guide to installing Android Wear apps.

What about the Android Wear updates?

Google's 17 new Android Wear watch faces

You may have heard about Android Wear 2.0, Android Wear 5.1 or even Android Wear Marshmallow; but none of these were official monikers… until recently, at least.

The first Android Wear update added GPS support for the platform, meaning that you could go running and track your stats without the need for smartphone tethering with a compatible app – if your watch has GPS connectivity that is.

A second update also arrived in December 2014, adding support for downloadable watch faces, making it much easier for devs to offer up designs and, more importantly, it's now a doddle for users to grab new designs.

Another update, announced in April 2015, added the always-on app feature and the gesture controls we've already mentioned, along with Wi-Fi connectivity and emojis.

A tweak in August 2015 added the interactive watch faces and watch-to-watch communications using Google's Together app.

The "most significant Android Wear update" so far – Google's words, not ours – is Android Wear 2.0, which arrived in February 2017 and which we've talked about throughout this guide.

It brought with it standalone apps, improved fitness tracking, expanded watch faces, new input methods, extra functionality for iPhone users, Android Pay, Google Assistant and a whole new design. Check out the image below – pretty swanky right?

android wear guide

What Android Wear smartwatch is for you?

At the time of writing there are around 30 different Android Wear smartwatches on sale.

And, at Baselworld 2017, no fewer than 15 new Android Wear models went live, adding to the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 and the Montblanc Summit that were announced in the days leading up to the Swiss big watch expo, meaning we should be nearing 50 models by the end of 2017.

Android Wear hidden features

There's also a plethora of hidden Android Wear secrets and hidden features we haven't told you about yet. From running a full web browser on your wrist to having a mini-launcher installed on your smartwatch, hop on over to our guide to the best Android Wear hidden features and find out all about them.

Then, and only then, can you really be considered an authority on Android Wear.




7 Comments

  • gatorguy says:

    Very helpful.  Thanks

  • L_E_O says:

    Just a quick correction.... I believe LG did finally release an update to add WiFi support to the G Watch R.

  • Gangaappdevelop says:

    App slicing is not available for iOS 9 apps due to an issue affecting iCloud backups created from iOS 9. When a customer downloads your iOS 9 app, they will get the Universal version of your app, rather than the variant specific for their device type. Top iOS development companies  are keen to know all the features of iOS9 to tweak their offerings

  • baconator says:

    Wow, the writing in this article is terrible.  And the self-referencing links throughout the article, which are clearly meant to help your Google search ranking, only add more fluff to your already shallow content.

  • baconator says:

    Wow, the writing in this article is terrible. And the self-referencing links throughout the article, which are clearly meant to help your Google search ranking, only add more fluff to your already shallow content.

  • LudoK says:

    Hi,

    There are a few smartwatches out now with Android 5.1.

    Is this compatible with Android Wear ?

    If you develop on android studio-wear, is this compatible with the watch with Android 5.1 ?

    thanks in advance

    best regards

  • Candelaporter says:

    yeah but what is the best one to buy for using the watch to speak to your called/caller???

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