With the wearable revolution running into some tough headwinds over the past year, one of the biggest players in the game, Google, is preparing to throw reinforcements at the problem. With sales of wearable devices flagging, and the basic fitness tracker type devices being the most popular among the few that are selling, the big G hopes that the huge software overhaul that Android Wear 2.0 represents will help it reignite consumer curiosity about computers they can chain to their wrists.
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The rumours that indicated that Google would be launching its own Pixel-branded hardware to run the new OS have proved to be a decoy. The devices have arrived, and the rumors were mostly right about their specs, form and function, but wrong about the branding. They will be sold by the original manufacturer, LG, under its own name. But names aside, early reviews of the two newly released smartwatches, the Sport and the Style, hint that Google might have a winner on its hands with Android Wear 2.0. Here’re the highlights…
The watch is also the phone
A number of smartwatch makers have attempted to create standalone wearable devices and failed, but if anyone can pull it off, it has to be one of the big two in the mobile ecosystem, Apple and Google. With Apple steadfastly refusing to let go of the iPhone dependence of its Watches, Google is now the only major player supporting a completely independent wearable experience – a watch that can make and receive calls, interface with the web and basically use all its intended functionality, without any help from a smartphone. The LG Watch Sport is likely the first in a long line of devices that will follow this spec. And to complete the package, Wear 2.0 also brings with it the promise of hundreds of standalone apps. This means that that iPhone users can also get the most out of their Android Wear devices as apps can be installed directly to the Watch using the inbuilt Play Store.
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Nip and tuck
There’s a bunch of improvements on the design and aesthetics front, with Android Wear finally getting to eat at the Material Design table reserved for its smartphone cousins up till now. Of course, it isn’t a straight graft. Google engineers have had to reinvent the wheel in order adapt the existing Material Design standards to a much smaller, rounder display, taking special care to make sure the entire display area available is utilized efficiently.
Another important update to Android Wear’s look and feel, which coincidentally was indeed a straight graft that required absolutely no invention, was the addition of Apple-style complications to watch faces. Google-powered watches can now also display useful bits of information pulled from apps on the watch face, just like Apple Watches.
Getting better at basic communication?
The fundamental problem with a computer the size of an oversized currency coin is that there are a very limited number of ways to get it to understand what you want it to do. While the UI boffins have mostly figured out how to structure the OS and its notifications and apps so that they can be navigated easily, the challenge of text input, which is key to a communications device, remains largely unsolved. Android Wear now gives you the option of a swipe keyboard, canned responses and handwriting recognition if you want to type out a message or an email on your watch. Google is also allowing third-party keyboards through the Play Store. If you’ve ever struggled to type out a basic one-liner on a 1-inch screen before, you’ll understand that all of this feels the user is being offered multiple half-baked solutions instead of one that actually works. So the short answer to the question that headlines this paragraph is, no, not really.
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