It's time for Android Wear to get a reboot. Google launched a new version of its smartwatch OS on Wednesday, along with two LG watches, the LG Watch Sport and the LG Watch Style.
Wear 2.0 has been growing in plain sight for months now, as Google released multiple versions of its software development kit. We had a hands on with an early version of the OS way back in May.
Android Wear 2.0 becomes much more usable by bringing itself in line with Samsung's and Apple's approach to watch apps. Previously, Android Wear really tried to predict what you wanted to see, resulting in an ever changing parade of unexpected cards. It also didn't really run apps itself; it was entirely dependent on your phone.
Now, Android Wear will have its own app store, an on-watch app menu, and independent apps, making it a much more flexible and predictable wrist-mounted computer. Tapping and swiping to launch apps and check out information will run much more predictably.
"In the new app launcher, app icons are aligned in a circular arrangement around the edge of the watch display, and you can scroll through using the rotating side button," LG says. "The rotating side button also allows you to read long messages without constantly swiping."
The watches become more interactive, with Google Assistant offering a conversational voice interface and a slew of options for responding to messages including dictation, typing on a tiny keyboard, handwriting, and drawing.
Watch faces are getting a boost too, with 'complications,' essentially widgets which can plug into watch faces to provide additional information. Apple has had those for a while.
Google clearly needs a renaissance here. According to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, no Android Wear watch vendor was in the top five wearables vendors at the end of 2016, and the only notable smartwatch in terms of sales was the Apple Watch.
"Smart wearables capable of running third party apps will likely continue to struggle in the near term," the analyst firm said.
Two New Watches from LG
Android Wear 2.0 launches with the LG Watch Style and the LG Watch Sport. The Style looks like the smallest Android Wear watch we've seen yet, with 18mm swappable bands and a "rotating power button" which seems to operate a lot like Apple's "digital crown" as a physical control for the watch's UI.
The Sport is "Android Wear's most powerful watch," according to Google. It's sort of like a demo platform to show off every feature possible in Android Wear. It's bigger than the Style, with NFC, GPS, 4G LTE, a heart rate monitor, and dedicated buttons for Google Fit and Android Pay.
The Sport is 14mm thick and has a 1.38-inch, 480-by-480 screen, 768MB of RAM, and 4GB of storage. It's IP68 water resistant. LG says its battery lasts a day. The Style is 11mm thick with a 1.2-inch, 360-by-360 display, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of storage, and it's IP67 water resistant. Both watches run on the new Qualcom Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor, and both watches charge by sitting in wireless cradles.
The Watch Style will be going on sale Feb. 10 at Best Buy and the Google Store for $249, and the Sport will be going on sale at AT&T and Verizon for $349.
Other Android Wear watches will get the new software "in the coming weeks." That includes the ASUS ZenWatch 2 & 3, Casio Smart Outdoor Watch, Casio PRO TREK Smart, Fossil Q Founder, Fossil Q Marshal, Fossil Q Wander, Huawei Watch, LG G Watch R, LG Watch Urbane and 2nd Edition LTE, Michael Kors Access Smartwatches, Moto 360 2nd Gen, Moto 360 for Women, Moto 360 Sport, New Balance RunIQ, Nixon Mission, Polar M600, and TAG Heuer Connected.