Refreshed Wear OS brings new assistant that's better designed for the wrist

Google redesigns its operating system to get you looking at your wrist less, not more
Google rolls out refreshed Wear OS
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After what felt like an eternity of nothing, a significant update to Wear OS smartwatches is now rolling out to users - the biggest since Android Wear 2.0 landed in early 2017.

This isn't quite as substantial as the jump made in 2.0, though; the cosmetic changes are small, with the major improvements centered around how you access information. Everything here is designed to have you looking at your smartwatch less, not more.

First impressions: Ultimate guide to Wear OS

“From what we’ve observed, on average a watch interaction is five seconds or less,"Dennis Troper, head of product on Wear OS, told us.

That means a new notification stream: Swiping up will show you a tray with all of your notifications in a list. Currently you only see one notification at a time, but the new layout lets you see more at a glance. You can also send send smart replies straight from the notification stream by simply tapping on a message, providing you're not using an iPhone.

Google's changed the left and right swiping gestures, too. Right now they're used to change the watch face, but, post-update, swiping to the right will give you access to the new assistant, while swiping to the left will give you a preview of your fitness information.

A new, smarter assistant

The new smartwatch assistant behaves a bit like the Google feed you get on Android smartphone, showing contextually relevant information to your current place and time: Flight bookings, restaurant reservations, tracked packages - all the things Google sees happening in your calendar and email - will show up here.

"We really think there's an opportunity for smartwatches to help you throughout the day without you necessarily having to ask for the information proactively," said Troper.

Since Android Wear 2.0, the Assistant experience on the watch has been mostly voice-oriented, but in practice the experience has been less than fantastic. Instead, Google sees more benefit in serving up information without being asked, piggybacking on the Google Assistant backend that learns more about you over time.

That means get suggestions, too, like an option to search for restaurants near a hotel you’ve booked, say. Troper told us it’s not an exact copy of the smartphone model; Google has “optimized” it for the wrist to prevent information overload.

“We’re starting with a set of information types that we’re going to be showing to you, and over time we’ll be adding more and more," said Troper.

Google gives Wear OS a redesign and a ‘proactive’ new assistant

Finally, swiping down still drags the quick settings tray into view, but with added buttons. Google Pay is now accessible from here, making it easier to open when you're at the checkout as is the ‘Find my phone’ button.

As we say, the update is now rolling out over the air. However, Troper says only a small number of old smartwatches won't get the update, and we don't know which watches are getting it first. If you have a smartwatch that didn't get the Android Wear 2.0 update, you're out of luck. Otherwise, you'll be free to enjoy all the new fun the Wear OS refresh has to offer.

Google gives Wear OS a redesign and a ‘proactive’ new assistant