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

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Android Wear isn't dead, instead it has been renamed Wear OS, with Google preparing for the diverse future of smartwatches.

There are more than 40 Wear OS watches today that launched with Android Wear software, but have 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.

We're sifting through Wear OS rumors and providing you with details of what we hope Google has planned for the future of its wrist-worn wearable software.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? Google's new name for it's smartwatch operating system
  • When is it out? Rolling out to newer watches now
  • How much will it cost? It'll be 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 3.0.

"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.

Google will likely save the true, feature-driven Wear OS details for Google IO 2018 in a few weeks. That takes place on Google's Mountain View campus starting May 8 this year.

A significant Wear OS update is 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 are currently being updated with 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.

Wear OS update news and rumors

There’s nothing official to report yet on Wear OS features that we anticipate seeing at Google IO, but as soon as we hear anything we’ll update this article.

Usually we've heard a bit more about a new software update by now, so Google is clearing doing a good job at keeping the details under wraps. Hopefully that means there are some big new features the company doesn't want us to hear about yet.

What we want to see

We might not know anything about Wear OS yet, but we know what we hope Google is working on. The following seven things top our list.

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 launch of Android Wear 3.0. 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.