When Android Wear first arrived, I was excited. Of course I was. The little green guy in a watch: how could I not be?
Then after a few weeks, or a few hours in some cases, I realised Android Wear was a bit awkward. A bit thin. A bit annoying. Android Wear 2.0 is out to solve all those issues. And it only took, consulting the Filofax, three years.
That’s right, real progress has been a long time coming. But at least it’s here.
Android Wear 2.0 interface: a smoother journey
The second version of Android Wear brings lots of new features and add-ons. After living with it for a little while now, they’re not what I’ve appreciated the most, though.
I’ve dropped in and out of using Android Wear over the last three years, because I skip between using Apple Watches, fitness trackers and all sorts of wrist-worn gadget fluff. Every time I came back to Wear, there were a couple of days of fitting back into its ways. It was like putting on a jumper made by an alien with only the loosest understanding of human anatomy.
I’m talking about awkward gestures and an overcomplicated architecture to basic parts of the system. Much of that is gone now. I’ve been using Android Wear 2.0 with the Huawei Watch 2, and it feels more like what some people always wanted, a watch version of Android.
You press a button to access your apps menu, and all the most top-level gestures are vertical. No more finger gymnastics: side swipes are only needed when you dig a bit deeper. It sounds like a small thing, but means the entire system is much more intuitive.
Android Wear 2.0 customisation: a big facelift
The update is a kinda delicious mix of making Wear simpler and more complicated at the same time – or at least more open.
For example, watch faces are way more customisable. All but the simplest have little extra data fields, whether that’s your step count, the date or the weather. These can be switched around when you customise the watch face, and they can even act as shortcuts or pull in data from third-party apps.
At this early stage, there aren’t scads of these third-party data blobs about, but there soon will be. They are called complications, a name we can only imagine came out of a brainstorming meeting worthy of The Apprentice’s later seasons.
Android Wear also — finally — lets you download apps right from the watch, rather than having to browse on your phone and then sync your apps. This makes it play much nicer with iPhones. The Google Play Wear interface is predictably not as pretty as the phone version, but does the job of letting you noodle away a few minutes looking for something fun and new to play with.
It’s annoyingly slow to load, though, taking a few seconds unless it has been used recently, and is therefore kept open in the system RAM.
Android Wear 2.0 apps: independence day
Google Play is a good example of Android Wear 2.0 apps becoming more independent. To date, most Wear apps of any substance have been little more than second screens for the version on your phone. Wear games have tended to be standalone, but crucial apps like Runkeeper and Strava weren’t much use on their own.
Now they are. Ready for the software’s launch, these top run/walk/cycle trackers now work solo, without even having their phone-based relatives installed. Paired with a watch that has GPS like the Huawei Watch 2, a Wear watch can finally be a good run tracker. It’s a long overdue upgrade.
Right now these apps are still only really meant for tracking your exercise rather than checking out maps of your runs and graphs of your progress, but with any luck we’ll be able to do some shallow data mining before too long.