In 2014, Google released Android Wear, a stripped-down version of its mobile OS intended for use in smartwatches. Android Wear was one of the first major software platforms for wearables, and it cemented Google's position in the smartwatch market.
SEE: Wearable Device Policy Template (Tech Pro Research)
Two years later, at its 2016 I/O developer conference, Google revealed Android Wear 2.0, a massive update complete with new displays, features, and capabilities. For business users, especially those who work within the Google ecosystem, Android Wear 2.0 offers improvements and updates that make it a more useful productivity tool.
The updates present in Android Wear 2.0 run the gamut of design, communication, and usability. Let's take a look at the top five that will improve the use case for professionals.
1. Standalone apps
Perhaps the biggest update to Android Wear in general, but also one that will help professional users, was the introduction of standalone apps. This means that Android Wear apps can directly access the internet through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or cellular data, without assistance from a paired phone.
Google was able to make this happen by eliminating Android Wear devices reliance on Data Layer APIs, thus enabling full functionality independent of a paired smartphone. So, if your phone dies, or you accidentally leave it in your office, you'll still be able to know what you have planned for the day and you won't miss an important email or message.
Of course, the biggest use of any smartwatch is as a satellite system for one's smartphone so you don't miss important messages or reminders. With Android Wear 2.0, Google updated both the design and usability of notifications.
Design-wise, notifications are getting a smaller icon and centered text over a dark background, making them easier to read. In terms of usability, Android Wear 2.0 introduces expanded notifications, which allow additional content for certain notifications.
For notifications that involve messaging, known to Android developers as MessagingStyle notifications, Android Wear 2.0 allows for a more chat-like experience and a new way to reply. Smart Reply allows users to reply to a message with a single tap on a given Smart Reply response. For example, if a user is sent a compliment, after tapping "Reply," the user could select from potential responses such as "Thank you!," or "Thanks for saying that."
Being that smartwatches have such a small screen compared to their smartphone or tablet counterparts, being able to clearly and precisely input a response is a challenge. For Android Wear 2.0, Google is expanding hands-free functionality with new gestures and better voice control for actions like sending a message.
However, Android Wear 2.0 is also opening up new keyboard methods and a handwriting method for input on Android Wear devices. To accomplish this, Android added support for its Input Method Framework (IMF) to Android Wear, making a scrolling handwriting feature and smoother virtual keyboard possible.
As with any software release, the updates to the UI in Android Wear 2.0 are plenty. It's now easier to find the app you need with a redesigned launcher, which features a carousel-style app menu. New drawers for navigation and action also make for a more friendly user experience.
One of the biggest updates comes with the new Complications API. Complications are essentially widgets that the user can add to his or her watch face. So, users can add a step counter that they will always see, or a to-do that they won't have to search through menus to find.
- My conclusions on Apple Watch vs. Android Wear, a one-month comparison (TechRepublic)
- Inside Android Wear 2.0: Big update with standalone apps, tiny keyboard, new UI (ZDNet)
- Google announces Daydream VR, a platform for high quality virtual reality (TechRepublic)
- Google expands hands-free functionality with new Android Wear update (ZDNet)
- Google Material Design: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.