Google updates Wear OS

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google is rolling out the biggest-ever update to its Wear operating system.

The update is focused on three areas: building a unified platform with Samsung; delivering a new consumer experience; and providing updates to Google apps, according to Bjorn Kilburn, director of product management of Wear at Google, this week.

The update will begin rolling out "later" in 2021 and mark a "new era for the wearables ecosystem." 

Unified platform

Google and Samsung are "bringing the best" of the Wear OS and Tizen, an open source mobile operating system, into a "single, unified platform," Kilburn says.

Google has "a long history of collaboration" with Samsung.

The companies worked together to create a mobile experience that has faster performance, longer battery life and more of the apps available for smartwatches running the OS:

Performance: Apps start up to 30% faster on the latest chipsets with smooth user interface animations and motion

Longer battery life: Optimized the lower layers of the operating system, taking advantage of low-power hardware cores for better battery life. Optimizations include the ability to run the heart rate sensor continuously during the day and track a user's sleep overnight and still have battery for the next day.

App development: The unified platform will make it easier for developers to build apps for the smartwatches. Developers will also be able to use the Android tools they already know to build for one platform and ecosystem

All device makers will be able to add a customized user experience on top of the platform.

As a result, users will have "more options than ever before," Kilburn says, when it comes to devices, apps and watch faces.

A woman sitting on a beach with a smartwatch running Google's Wear OS. Photo via Google.

A smartwatch user sits on a beach. Photo via Google.

Consumer experience 

The update makes managing tasks with the smartwatches easier due to new navigation capabilities:

Shortcuts: To "get things done" faster, users can access shortcuts to important functions, like switching to the previous app, from anywhere in the watch

Tiles: The home screen carousel can be customized with Tiles from apps like Calm, Sleep Cycle and Flo

Quick access: Users can choose what information they want "at a glance" and which actions they want "a swipe away"

Animation: Demonstrates how to swipe to see new Tiles

New and updated apps 

New and re-built apps from developers like Strava, adidas Running, Bitmoji and more are coming to the Wear OS.

New tools, like a Tiles API and a watch face design editor built by Samsung, make it easier to develop new experiences for wearables.

Google is also adding or updating several of its apps:

Google Maps: Being re-designed and "improved"

Google Pay: Re-designed and support added for 26 new countries, bring the total to 37

YouTube Music: Arriving on Wear later in 2021, with features like smart downloads for subscribers to play music on the go 

Google Assistant: Being re-designed and "improved"

Fitbit: Google completed its acquisition of Fitbit this January. The "best" of the app, including tracking health progress throughout a user's day and on-wrist goal celebrations, is part of the update.

"Health and fitness tracking is essential for wearables," Kilburn says.

"We welcome Fitbit’s many years of health expertise to the experience." 

Apple watchOS 7

Apple released the latest version of its wearable operating system, watchOS 7, in September of 2020. 

The version features a new family setup, more customizable watch faces and a Sleep app update to help create a bedtime routine and sleep schedule.

It is designed to help users "stay healthy, active and connected,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer.

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Google, Wearable, Wear