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Circuit Breaker

Google is making big changes to improve battery life for Wear OS smartwatches

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The first developer preview is out now, but you shouldn’t install it

Yesterday, Google launched a developer preview for Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) a few weeks after releasing the first Android P preview for smartphones. Just like that initial build, this software for the company’s wearables platform remains extremely unfinished, and Google flat out says it “is not for daily or consumer use” at this early stage. For now, it’s available exclusively for the Huawei Watch 2 Bluetooth and Huawei Watch 2 Classic Bluetooth, and the preview build must be flashed onto the device manually — another indicator that it’s meant strictly for developers and not your average tech enthusiast.

The biggest changes in this first release are meant to preserve battery life. “To improve power, apps will no longer be allowed to run in the background unless the watch is on the charger,” Google said in its blog post. There are two exceptions to that rule: watchfaces and complications currently chosen by the user can continue to run in the background.

Also, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular radios (where applicable) will automatically turn off when Wear OS detects that your device has been off your body for “an extended amount of time.” The third change designed get your smartwatch through the day with juice to spare might get more of a mixed reaction. “To improve power, the device will no longer automatically connect to Wi-Fi when disconnected from Bluetooth.” Again, this doesn’t apply if your watch is on its charge. Google says these three battery optimizations will roll out gradually, so they might not be working as soon as you install the dev preview.

There’s also now a dark UI system theme “for easier glanceability.” Wear OS already moved over to a darker interface for notifications and the system launcher, and now it’s also the default for the system theme.