Google’s wearable operating system, Wear OS, has been going through some changes, and your smart watch may be better off because of it. Wear OS, formerly known as Android Wear, received some upgrades after getting the name change in 2018.

The biggest changes already rolled out when Google first released Android Wear 2.0 to smart watches and wearables running the platform. Those changes were largely visual. The Wear app for Android and iOS got an updated look to reflect the new name. Setting up a Wear OS smartwatch slightly changed in that it became more of a streamlined process to pair it to a phone and transfer Google account information over.

The Wear OS update

There are now dozens of Wear OS watches available, including from brands like, LG, Casio, Michael Kors, Fossil, Guess Connect, Movado, Skagen, Nixon and Tommy Hilfiger. It will take a few weeks for every user to get the update, so if you don’t see it now, you will get it in due time.

Bear in mind that it doesn’t matter whether you have your Wear OS watch paired with an Android or iOS device. Part of the reason for this rebrand may be because of the fact Wear OS doesn’t always require an Android device to work. The iPhone is one of the more popular devices you can use with it.

Google rolled out a feature for Wear OS in 2018 called Dark mode, and it’s mostly an aesthetic design cue. What it does is make the background black for the launcher and notification stream.

It may not sound like much, but it may have been a test to gauge how effective it would be to make it more permanent in other parts of the OS. Using more of the dark mode throughout Wear OS should help improve battery life. Helping a watch last longer per charge has been one of the main focuses moving forward. Google’s Android Pie update brought in a new feature whereby Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular connectivity would turn off when not wearing the watch.

Another cool perk was that the watch wouldn’t stay connected to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth at the same time if there was no need for it. For example, when disconnected via Bluetooth, the watch won’t automatically connect to a known Wi-Fi network unless it needs to for downloading content or a system update.

Tiles

Google’s latest addition is something it calls “tiles.” These tiles appear when you swipe left on your watch screen. They range from weather information, calendar entries, heart rate status, and news headlines, among others. This is basically an extension of the Google Fit tile that you could already access the same way prior to the latest Wear OS update.

Just like you would select to change the watch face by holding your finger down and swiping to browse, you can rearrange the order of the tiles. Google says more tiles are coming, and it looks like third-party apps may be among them. Either way, you can only see tiles based on features already available to you. So, for instance, if your watch doesn’t have a heart rate monitor, there would be no tile showing that.

The latest update means Wear OS operates into four distinct directions. Swipe up and you see notifications, or down to access settings. Swipe right to bring up Google Assistant, or left to go through the tiles. This layout more clearly defines how to navigate through what used to be a convoluted interface.

Staying fit and healthy

Like any smartwatch OS, Wear OS is designed to offer something comprehensive when it comes to health and fitness. The new Tile layout now brings up shortcuts when you swipe left from the home screen. These are Goals, Next event, Forecast, Heart Rate, Headlines, and Timer. That’s the default order but you can rearrange them, if you like.

All of that falls under Google Fit on Wear OS, and you have the option to select a watch face that is all about Fit. If your smartwatch has a built-in heart rate monitor, it will appear onscreen and give you access to other activity-related features. Start a run and let it read your heart rate on the go, or set a goal for your daily activity

Third-party apps can also plug into Wear OS, like Strava, Runkeeper, MyFitnessPal, Endomondo, Map My Run, Runtastic, Lifesum, 7 Minute Workout and Sleep as Android. Some meditation and sleep apps will also tie in, adding more to the health and wellness side of the platform.

Google Assistant

Wear OS has a direct line to Google Assistant, giving the smartwatch a chance to run things a little bit. In most cases, the watch will need to be paired with a phone to use its data connection, but when it is, it can do a fair bit.

Ask the watch for the weather or for a quick response to something, like converting a measurement, for example. The best part is that Smart Suggestions will display follow-up questions that might be related to what you inquired about. Access calendar entries and reminders to stay on track, and even travel information to avoid searching on your phone.

It tries to do the same thing for messages. If you want to reply to an incoming message, you can either talk back to record a response (on watches with microphones) or select a quick message back from the screen.

Smart home control

With a voice assistant also comes smart home control. There are many compatible devices, but the gist is that you can talk to a Wear OS smartwatch and control something at home. It works a lot like it does on a phone or smart speaker at home. So long as the watch registers the command, you should see the result at home.

Wearing Wear OS

If you have a smartwatch running Wear OS, you should already have the update, otherwise called version 2.24. Newer watches have been getting it, whereas much older ones were not. For example, if your watch was running a version prior to 2.0, it may not be eligible. Check to see if your watch’s manufacturer says so one way or another.

It probably goes without saying, but bears repeating for some: Samsung smartwatches and wearables don’t run on Wear OS, but rather Tizen, Samsung’s own OS. So Wear OS updates have no impact on any of those products.

Check out the latest Wear OS smartwatches and wearables available now, and if you’re not sure whether a certain model will be supported or not, leave a comment below. I’ll be sure to confirm for you.

 

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Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.

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