Smartwatches have had a rough go of it in their relatively short lives thus far. Sure, the Apple Watch sold well enough that people don’t consider it a total disaster, and enough Android Wear watches are floating around that it seems like at least a few people care, but they’ve hardly been the runaway success that some thought they would be. Always ready for a challenge, Google is doing its best to reinvent its smartwatch platform with the Android Wear 2.0 update, which is finally rolling out after being teased and tested for months. Here’s why it’s a big deal, even if you don’t own a smartwatch (yet).
It’s faster than ever
Okay, so this is an obvious one, but Android Wear 2.0 makes navigating the interface and launching apps much quicker than it’s been in the past. It still won’t rival your smartphone in terms of boot-up time — that can still take a while, unfortunately — but on-the-go interactions with the watch are now noticeably less bogged down with waiting screens and loading bars.
Google Assistant is one of the slickest AI assistants around, so having it on your wrist is pretty much ideal. It works via the same “Ok Google” voice command as it does elsewhere, and can create lists, calendar notifications, and grab directions without having to tap through any menus.
Apple Watch devotees blew their collective lids when Apple showed off customizable complications for the first time, and for good reason: Having more information that you actually use on the watch face is never a bad thing. Android Wear 2.0 lets users customize their primary watch screens with calendar alerts, alarms, pedometer data, weather, and other information that requires much less digging than it ever has before.
Replying to a message without having to take your phone out of your pocket is a pretty huge benefit of owning a smartwatch, but Android Wear’s first attempt at replies was pretty lackluster. In 2.0, replies are both quicker to compose and faster to send thanks to built-in reply buttons for Android Wear-compatible apps, and Google’s handy Smart Reply feature that auto generates possibly replies for you to choose from.
For anyone coming to an Android smartwatch from a dedicated fitness band, Google Fit was often lacking smarts. 2.0 sees Fit get a big upgrade. There’s now third party app sharing so that your favorite Android fitness app can play nice with your workout data, and the app is now smarter about knowing when you’ve started working out and when you stop, and has a much better sensor algorithm for figuring out the kind of exercise you’re actually doing, without being told.
You don’t need your phone
The dream of all smartwatch fans is to eventually have a device that doesn’t even need to be connected to a phone in order to do everything you need it to. Android Wear 2.0 lays the groundwork for that future with support for WiFi and LTE. However, since almost all current Android smartwatches don’t have LTE capabilities — LG’s new Watch Sport is leading the charge in this regard — taking advantage of this feature requires that you invest in an entirely new watch. Still, it’s a promising sign of things to come.