Google is revamping the Wear OS smartwatch user interface

If you have a newer Wear OS watch, sometime in the coming month, you’ll get a software update that will change what happens when you swipe on your watchface. Alongside the new UI, Google is also adding a new feed of information from Google Assistant, faster access to Google Fit, and a more information-dense view of your notifications.

It’s a much-needed cleanup and refinement for the big changes that came in Wear OS 2.0 (née Android Wear). That update changed a bunch of stuff to make it easier to get to apps and switch watchfaces, but it also felt like a significant step backward when it came to reading notifications. Currently, you can swipe left or right to change watchfaces. But when the new update hits, those gestures will map to something new, and you’ll need to long press to change faces.

Here’s what you will see on your watch using the new system, starting from the main watchface:

Let’s examine the changes one by one. The most important change is the one you see above: a feed of information from Google Assistant. It’s designed to show you relevant info about your day, like calendar details, package-tracking info, and the weather.

It’s very similar to the Siri watchface on the Apple Watch. It’s also similar to the “visual snapshot” feature that was recently added to Google Assistant on phones. (However, on both iOS and Android, that feature is buried under a confusing button.) Most of all, it’s similar to a once-highly touted thing called “Google Now,” which purported to give you predictive information cards about your day.

I’m not sure what Google is calling this feed. It’s just referring to the information as “proactive” help. The company seems more interested in pushing the general idea of Google Assistant than putting a clear brand identifier on this feed.

Next are notifications, which operate basically the same as before. They still mostly mirror what’s on your phone. Dismissing a notification on your watch will do the same on your phone, and many apps will allow you to quick reply with suggested chips. But the best feature here is that Google is going back to a more information-dense display that puts all your notifications on a single, scrollable pane instead of having them fill the entire screen one by one.

Swiping left will now take you to the new Google Fit interface, which shows the two new rings that Google is has created to track your health. One is “move minutes” and the other is “heart points.” You can read more about what those rings mean and why Google changed up Fit here.

Last but not least, swiping down takes you to a slightly revamped Quick Settings pane, which adds two oft-requested buttons: one for finding your phone and another for Google Pay. More (but perhaps not enough) Wear OS watches come with NFC now, and the Google Pay button will make sure that the chip is on and ready to pay when you walk up to the point-of-sale terminal.

Oddly enough, Google wasn’t willing to say whether this update to Wear OS is getting a version number; until it rolls out, I can’t say whether it’s Wear OS 2.1 or 2.5 or whatever. It’s a relatively quiet update for a platform that has had a relatively quiet year (or more). I’m glad to see Google iterating on the software, and the changes do seem to be an improvement. But software tweaks aren’t the problem.

The problem is that we are still waiting for a good processor that fashion brands and tech companies can use to make watches that don’t all look like variations on the same theme: a kind of thick, kind of slow, circular watch that can only make it through a single day of use before dying (less, if you use GPS or LTE). Qualcomm says that it’s coming — potentially this year.

For both Android and iPhone users right now, Wear OS has a ton of different watches you can choose from, but none of them are very good. There are a bunch of signs that Google is looking to change that: this software update, the coming Qualcomm processor, the revamped Google Fit, and a new emphasis on increasing the quality of Wear OS apps are all signs that point to a more serious attempt to take on the Apple Watch.

If that’s all true, we should start seeing a new generation of Wear OS watches that are actually worth considering, and rumor has it that Google may make a “Pixel Watch.” It’s very nearly make-or-break time for the platform — and the clock is definitely ticking.

Comments

The Pixel watch better gd be bezel-less… tired of the over promised teasing and getting compromised products

I’m actually hoping for a rotating bezel like all Samsung watches. Does anyone know if any Wear watches will have that?

My Gear S2 is awesome precisely because of the easy and fast navigation of the rotating bezel. Don’t usually have to touch the screen, which for a tiny screen is valuable.

The Misfit Vapor has a touch sensitive bezel, but the watch received mixed reviews.

That touch sensitive bezel is a gimmick (IMO, as all "gimmicks are in the eye of the beholder," "one man’s gimmick," etc…).

Samsung’s bezels can be physically grabbed and twisted. They’re intuitive to a fault; I don’t own a Gear watch, but I could totally see myself fidgeting with the bezel all day long. The mechanism feels that good.

Meanwhile, Misfit’s (Fossil’s) touchable bezel requires the user to smear their fingertip around in a circle. Not exactly intuitive, and not a whole lot better than just swiping through lists on a touchscreen the old-fashioned way.

Again, IMO.

Samsung will have that patented to hell and back, so that’s a nope.

Everything has a price.

…Though there’s no way Google is paying whatever licensing price Samsung would be asking for.

Is a smartwatch having a bezel really "compromising?"

And Google never "teases" with design. For better or worse, Pixel leaks have always been as bland-looking as the product on launch day (except Panda XL2, which is still gorgeous).

Sure some aspects of their launches have been compromised (see: the litany of defects associated to the Pixel 2 and 2XL launch), but it’s not like they were "teasing" that the phone wouldn’t suffer burn-in (because obviously nobody should be expecting extreme burn-in. For shame, Google and LG.)

I guess I’m not sure what exactly you’re referring to by teasing.

The Assistant timeline looks awful compared to Apple’s Siri watch face, or the Pebble Timeline. Google WYD?

Agreed. Also, why would I want to track a package from my watch, or learn about a restaurant from my watch? But more to the point, if I can’t get what I need from my watch in less than 3 seconds, I’m probably going to pull out my phone anyway.

Also, why would I want to track a package from my watch

This but for the majority of smartwatch features.

I get some people seem to like smartwatches and I am happy that they are happy.
Personally, they seem like a status symbol more than a useful item. Most folks I know with a smart watch either stopped using one awhile ago or only have one because they got it for free. But my bubble must not intersect the smartwatch bubble.

Ya, I only see a handful of good use cases for smart watches.
1) Helping you be where you need to be, when you need to be there. So, current time, appointments, and directions.
2) Health related. If you can keep track of my heart rate, and anything else along those lines, great. Not a huge benefit, but for a lot of people, not minuscule either.
3) NFC Transactions, whether it’s making a payment, or being granted admission. This isn’t a big selling point right now, to me, but as NFC transactions become more common, simplifying that process becomes more valuable.

Awww. You have a really nice way of seeing things. Thanks!

I have and love one , but the only features I use on it are like…

  1. The time. A normal watch could do this just as well.
  2. Checking if the notification I just got is important enough to read the full thing on my phone. Rarely sending a quick reply.
  3. Music control without looking, often while doing other things. (Only possible since my watch is a Pebble.)

… Oh, right. And "Find my phone" far more often than I should. I don’t think it’s quite what most people want out of a smartwatch, though.

True. I don’t want to navigate maps, or look at a photo gallery, or try to do anything that involves reading more than a line or two of text.

I still find them useful. I track my bike rides with GPS, which used to require a special bike mounted computer or a phone mount. Now, I just use the watch I’m already wearing. The notifications are nice to see if I want to follow up on something.

The Garmin I have now is pretty useful. I still miss my Microsoft Band2. It did everything I wanted, I could even access Cortana and dictate short text replies.

I disagree, seems fine to me. Matches the assistant on android perfectly and evokes a cohesive feel. It’s just different. Not better or worse.

I would consider this OS if there was some compelling hardware. Im not holding my breath.

Not to disagree with you, but I’ve been coming very close to a purchase since the Gen 4 Fossil smartwatches that released a few weeks back. They finally have NFC, Heartbeat sensor etc all in what is a very attractive watch.

The only real issue is that 1 day battery life which ties in to the concern that the processor is a little too old.

If the new Qualcomm chip does come – does deliver – and Fossil use it in a generation 5 with the same styling – I’ll be out of excuses not to buy one

If the new Qualcomm chip does come – does deliver

Lets hope. i`m getting 4-5 days in battery saver mode on my Gear S3, a couple of days in standard mode. I wouldn’t touch anything which cant compete with that.

I enjoy having one of these. I’ve had an Android Wear / Wear OS device since the very first ones (Samsung Gear Live) came out. They are what they are. I, of course, wish that they had better battery life, but a good Wear OS device will easily get you through the day. I have never understood this idea that you need to be able to shower in it, wear it to bed, wear it for a week straight, etc. I put it on in the morning and charge it at night. It’s not complicated. If I can get through a regular day and have it be over 30%, then what’s the big deal?

One thing that good battery life is essential for is sleep tracking. I loved my 2nd gen Moto 360 but if I didn’t charge it overnight then I the battery was gone by mid morning the following day. I actually used it as a night clock so it didn’t bother me and use a fitbit alta for sleep tracking.

That’s another thing, I wish fitbit was compatible with Google Fit.

I wish Fitbit would stop being so stingy with our data, regardless of the platform, as it doesn’t integrate with Apple Health either. I get that they probably want to use it as a researching edge, but at the end of the day, it’s still our data and we should be able to use it how we see fit.

Nice, looks like it undoes most of what they screwed up with 2.0. Now I just hope that it hits my aging hardware so I can try it out before the next wave of watches running that new QC chip hit the market.

Looks a solid improvement, and gets rid of those silly swipe-to-accidentally-change-watchface gestures. Find My Phone shortcut is golden. Looking forward to it.

The vertical feed paradigm really does not suit round screens all that well. The content is only fully readable dead center.

Tried a smartwatch but found it to really just be a lot more trouble than its worth. Needs charging every night, connection problems, and the only useful thing it did was notifications. These things are still way more of a novelty than a necessity and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Wish they would start offering compact phones again rather than having limited but portable smartwatches and giant phones that don’t fit in a pocket.

I’m very happy with my ZenWatch 3. Great looks, priced right. Probably the best feature is the quick charge, which takes less than an hour, usually 30 to 40 minutes… I hope future Android watches will offer quick charge.

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