Thoughts on Android Wear (WearOS)

I have had a Moto360 Sport for a little over 18 months now and use it from time to time along with my Samsung Galaxy S7. It is the Sports model of the popular and now defunct Moto360 line of watches, which means it comes with an integrated silicon band, GPS, and a special screen that has a special black and white mode for when you use it outdoors that the normal Moto360 lacks. It’s from the same era as my Apple Watch 1 so by 2018 standards it feels a little on the slower side and the screen is not nearly as vivid as even the Apple Watch 1 that I had, but after a 6 month delay it did get the latest version of Android Wear. The watch I have is really the red-headed step-child of the Motorola line of watches and they have made it clear that it will receive so more updates going forward so now its a watch stuck in time. Android Wear has kinda sputtered to a stop over the last 12 months…really around the time the Apple Watch 2 came out and Google had to push back the release of Android Wear 2.0 due to some show-stopper bugs. Since then the watch hardware has stalled as well, solidifying around specs from last year and the proliferation of fashion-forward brands like Fossil and Michael Kors taking over a market that was previously controlled by phone manufacturers like Motorola and LG. While the software has stalled and the hardware lagged behind, it is notable all of the hardware choice WearOS possesses now. The renamed Android Wear to “WearOS” recently as a method of making it easier to sell these watches to iPhone users as well, which makes sense.

Overall, I like the user interface design of WearOS. It’s really centered around the Watch face and a notification pane that you get to by swiping up from the bottom. What started off as a Google Now feed on your wrist has kinda just turned into notification pane for better and worse as Google has pivoted away from Google Now’s proactive notifications and more into Google Assistant. The app ecosystem leaves much to be desired, but the custom watch faces are awesome and really make the watch feel like your watch. I wish that Google would have done more with the MODE band initiative by releasing a Pixel Watch and using that system to provide an Apple-Watch-like variety of bands. Smart watches are as much function as they are fashion and being able to pick your bands and watch face would be in keeping with the core philosophy of Android’s “Together, not the same”.

I think that Google Fit needs to be a big overhaul though and Google should really push all WearOS watches to include the fitness sensor basics such as a pedometer, heart rate sensor, etc. I think Google Fit can be for more than just runners and better health should be a core focus of WearOS just like it is on Apple Watch. I would like Google to go as far as Apple and Microsoft and work with health professionals to be able to link up your Google Health history with your medical history and data from apps like LifeSum or Strava. Kinda of like how Google Assistant is supposed to be your everyday assistant, Google Fit should be your life couch motivating you to live a healthier lifestyle or slow down if things are too hectic. If I’m having a bad day and my heart rate is through the roof all day, maybe trigger a buzz and notification for me to take a moment to use a meditation or prayer app. As Apple has shown with the Apple Watch, health is not just for athletic-types. Just getting up and walking around a little bit throughout the day or tracking your weight or food intake can significantly improve somebody’s life. I would also like to see sleep tracking as well. It would be cool to have a Google Calendar-like dashboard of your activity and sleeping patterns throughout the week. On top of what people eat and do throughout the day, I feel like there is an epidemic of adults who do not get enough sleep.

I think WearOS should encourage people to step away the computer, tablet, and TV screens to experience the great outdoors more. WearOS already supports LTE, but I think that Google needs to work with ProjectFi and the other carriers to make WearOS a truly independent device. People should be able to leave their phones behind and take/receive phone calls, text messages, notifications, track fitness, stream music, make payments, etc without having to miss a beat. It would be good if Google could produce a smaller LTE watch or force the issue and make LTE a standardized feature for smart watches.

I feel like Apple Pay is one of the main features of the Apple Watch and Google really needs to make a concerted effort to push Google Pay to as many WearOS watches as it can manage. Only two watches right now even support it and they are definitely on the larger size.

WearOS watches are BIG. The smallest watches range from the size of the the 42mm Apple Watch to “Lindsey Lohan house arrest bracelet”-sized. The LG Watch Sport is comically large. When trying out one at an AT&T store I literally laughed out loud when I put it on. I feel like Google is ignoring 50% of their potential market by not catering to smaller wrists. Not everyone is into gigantic wrist computers.

Google Assistant on the watch is already pretty good, but I hope that Google brings back some of the Google Now spirit and lets 3rd parties create cards/notifications. It would be nice to get news updates, traffic alerts, new music in Google Music, Google Fit recommendations, Google Photo memories, Youtube clips, website RSS updates, Google Keep geolocation reminders etc. I like the idea that Google Assistant is trying to predict what notifications I can depending on location. It would be nice if they would sync these notifications to Chrome (And by extension ChromeOS) and used geolocation to suppress notifications intelligently. If I’m at work, don’t show me Gmail notifications from home or vice-versa unless its marked as an important message don’t send work emails to my wrist. If I’m at the gym maybe recommend a playlist in Google Music or Spotify to listen to and load up the Google Fit app or Strava to be ready for a workout. Having an on-demand assistant is nice, but a really good assistant in life knows your habits, schedule, and preferences and tries to adapt accordingly. I think Google could do that with Google Assistant.

So, those are just a few thoughts that have been rattling around my head for the last few weeks. I do hope we see some good news at Google I/O about the future of WearOS. Seeing that their is a new Developer Preview that focuses on battery life and a dark UI for AMOLED screen has given me hope that Google is getting serious about WearOS again. I don’t want Apple to be the only smartwatch game in town.

IT Support Specialist V and Spring Hill College graduate who loves all things tech. If it has a flashing LED it has my immediate attention.