Wear OS: Google's new name for Android Wear explained

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Google's Wear OS is the new name for Android Wear, so if you were expecting to see Android Wear 3, please reset your smartwatch software expectations.

Google's official reasoning for the name change is to prepare for the diverse future of smartwatches. 

There are more than 40 Wear OS watches today that launched with Android Wear software, but many have already been given the new name and logo in a software update. 

That has been an easy change for Google to make. New features, however, are the bigger story, and we fully expect whatever Google had planned for Android Wear 3.0 is in fact coming in a Wear OS update later in 2018.

Rumors suggest there's a Google Pixel Watch in the works too. It'll be designed specifically designed to show off the software's full potential, and that's set to be alongside a whole bunch of new Wear OS watches we'll see throughout the year.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? Google's latest version of its smartwatch operating system
  • When is it out? Rolling out to newer watches now
  • How much will it cost? It's free of charge

Wear OS name change

Why the new name? Google's official announcement on March 15, 2018 pointed to the fact that one in three Wear OS users owns an iPhone. Android Wear as a name is rather limiting.

"We’re now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone," said Google in an official statement. "We’re announcing a new name that better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all—the people who wear our watches."

Simply put, even if you own an iPhone X, you shouldn't be turned off from buying into the Wear OS ecosystem and sent into the arms (wrists?) of the Apple Watch 3.

Wear OS release date

Wear OS smartwatches are due for an update, way more than Google changing the name from Android Wear. That's really not all we wanted from Android Wear 3.

"You’ll begin to see the new name on your watch and phone app over the next few weeks," said Google in March and that has been the case for most modern Android Wear watches. We're thinking that's just the start though.

Before Google IO 2018 kicked off on May 8, Google announced a number of improvements coming to the platform. We'll explain these in greater detail below, but we know that Google Assistant is now far more useful on the platform.

A significant Wear OS update was long overdue. Android Wear launched in June 2014 after being announced in May of that year. It did see a sizable Android Wear 1.1 update roughly a year later in March 2015, but then Google stuck to minor tweaks between then and the jump to Android Wear 2.0 in February 2017.

What watches are getting Wear OS?

Google has provided a list of devices that have now been updated to the new Wear OS branding.

Whether all of the watches below will get the new features when the next update comes around remains to be seen, but we have high hopes for most on this list considering each is getting the Wear OS branding.

We can also expect future watches from Android Wear manufacturers to come with Wear OS software onboard. We've heard word there will be a new flagship Wear OS device later this year called the Google Pixel Watch, plus there are rumors of an LG Watch Timepiece and perhaps even the Samsung Galaxy Watch too. 

All of these devices - and more - are expected to come toting Wear OS from day one.

Wear OS update news and rumors

Google outlined new features that are headed to Wear OS a few days before Google IO 2018 and we've seen some of the new features in action too. These additions especially make Google Assistant on the platform much more useful. 

First up, smart suggestions are coming to Wear OS through Google Assistant. If you ask about the weather, Google Assistant will not only show you the current weather outside, but also give you a forecast for several days ahead. 

Answers to queries are also much more thorough thanks to the update. Instead of being told only when the next train is coming, you'll now see a full train schedule, for example. 

This makes Google Assistant much more useful on the wearable platform. 

Another example we saw at Google IO showed a full picture of the Eiffel Tower when you ask a question about the famous French landmark as well as details on how tall it is.

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Google Assistant is also gaining a voice on Wear OS. If your Wear OS device has a built-in speaker or is synced to Bluetooth headphones, you'll get audible cues from Google Assistant, just like you would any other Android device. 

Actions are also coming to Wear OS, which basically means you can use your smartwatch to control smart devices in your home. Talk about gaining power!

One example we saw at Google IO allowed you to control an LG robot vacuum through the display, but this should work for a variety of other smart home tech too and allow you much more control of your devices from your wrist.

Below you can watch our video about Google Pixel Watch and Wear OS

What we want to see

Before we heard details about Wear OS, we put together a list of things we wanted to see from the new upgrade.  Below you can still read that list, which includes some things we've got from the update as well as things we've yet to see.

1. More apps

Android Wear didn't have the kind of app problem that plagued Windows Phone, but it could definitely use a wider selection in the next big Wear OS update. It's trailing the kind of developer support we see from Apple's watchOS, which will see a watchOS 5 update at WWDC 2018.

That’s surprising. All of the Wear OS smartwatch combined aren't as popular as the Apple Watch series, but it’s a vicious circle – without the apps these smartwatch are never likely to reach Apple Watch-level popularity. So we’d like to see a wider selection with the Android Wear 3.0 release. We don’t know how Google will manage this, but we have faith.

2. Better efficiency

Two problems that plague many Android Wear devices are weak battery life and middling performance. Faster chipsets and bigger batteries (if manufacturers can find a way to squeeze them in) are the most obvious solutions to that, but Google could probably help at a software level.

If it can make Wear OS more lightweight and efficient than previous versions then we might be able to get noticeable speed and life boosts on existing hardware.

3. Greater support for iOS

Android Wear and the forthcoming Wear OS update now work reasonably well with iOS, but the experience is still more limited than if you have an Android phone, as, for example, notifications can’t be interacted with in as many ways, leaving you unable to respond to WhatsApp messages and the like.

There’s also no iMessage support, and while we can’t see that changing, as it would presumably require additional cooperation from Apple, we’d like to see Google work to get the core experience up to the same standards when paired with iOS as it is with Android.

4. A smoother roll out

One of the downsides of Android on phones is that new versions of the operating system often take a long time to arrive on handsets, if they arrive at all. That’s partially down to the heavy skins manufacturers put on their devices, meaning they have to work a lot harder to get the update functional.

This should be less of an issue on Wear OS, since while manufacturers offer some light customization it’s broadly the same across devices, yet Android Wear 2.0 still took a long time to arrive on some watches and many older ones didn’t get it at all.

For Wear OS, we want every watch that currently has Android Wear 2.0 to get the update (unless there’s a hardware reason it can’t) and for all of them to get it in a timely fashion.

5. Let you use your watch as your password

If you’ve got an Wear OS device, you can have your Android phone or Chromebook automatically unlock when connected to it, but the same skill can’t be extended to a Windows or Mac computer.

Since we’d wager most people have one of them this is a big omission, albeit an understandable one, since they’re not running a Google operating system. If at all possible though we’d like Android Wear 3.0 to let your watch unlock non-Google devices.

6. Cast content

Google Cast is a great way to get media from your phone to your TV or stereo, but the same feature doesn’t exist on Android Wear.

Arguably it would be less useful on a watch, but there are certainly times when it would be handy to be able to cast music from our wearables to a Chromecast Audio.

7. Interface tweaks

With version 2.0 Google polished Android Wear’s interface, but there’s still work to be done to make interacting with these tiny screens easier.

We want Wear OS to further polish and refine the interface, but in terms of specific improvements we’d love to see an easy way to get back to a workout or call screen from the home screen.

On our phones there’s a green bar at the top for calls and the recent apps menu for everything else and neither is more than a tap or swipe away, but on Wear OS navigation doesn’t feel quite so simple, and a single tap – whether accidental or intentional – can leave you far from where you were before.