Android Wear 2.0 is here, and Google has taken to the Google Developers blog to go over the improvements it brings with a fine tooth comb, and what those improvements mean for developers. On the whole, things have gotten easier and prettier for both developers and users, and new hardware features are supported, allowing for a wider range of watch designs and form factors. The list of changes for the new version of Android Wear is massive, and some of them fundamentally alter the way Android Wear smartwatches work, making them fully competitive with the likes of the Samsung Gear S3 and the Apple Watch. Changes like Android Wear finally adopting Material Design, getting independent internet access, and getting Play Store functionality make this update a game-changer for users and developers alike, and there are tons of other under the hood changes that open up new worlds of possibility.
For starters, one of the biggest changes is independent cloud and web access. Android Wear apps can now send and receive data without having to use a phone as a middleman, meaning that Wi-Fi and cellular-enabled Android Wear devices could feasibly become a user's sole device for everything except media consumption and gaming. Hand in hand with that big addition to the ecosystem, Android Wear watches can now access the Play Store, allowing them to download compatible apps without having to sync them up through a phone. While some apps still require a companion component on a linked phone to set them up properly, many will either already be fully usable on the watch alone when run on an updated device, or will implement such functionality in the future. Finally, Android Wear has fully adopted Material Design guidelines with a darker look, more vertical task trees, and richer animations.
Aside from those three overall game changers, there are some fairly big changes in the update. Complications, things on the watch face that display anything besides the time, can now link to third party apps with a special Complications API from Google, rather than the developer of a watch face having to strike a deal with an app developer whose app they want to integrate, and then both parties coding in that integration by hand. Physical button location changing and rotary dial gestures are now supported, allowing manufacturers to play around more with device design. LG's upcoming watches are among the first to boast this functionality. Apps will also undergo a more thorough vetting process before receiving the Wear-compatible badge and being eligible for top chart placement in the Android Wear apps category; apps will have to include a separate APK made especially for Android Wear, rather than simply tweaking their usual notifications to be Wear-friendly. Google's new Android Wear 2.0 SDK includes support and tools to make implementing all of these changes as easy as possible for developers.