Google’s Android Wear operating system for smartwatches is 2 years old, and it still hasn’t caught on with consumers as well as the Apple Watch has. But the company is hoping to change that with the biggest update to the OS to date: Android Wear 2.0.
The new OS offers a number of improvements over its predecessor — including, most significantly, standalone apps that can run without the need to have a paired smartphone.
According to Google, standalone apps will let you use apps like Spotify on your smartwatch free of your phone. That means you don’t have to wear one of those chunk arm straps to hold your handset when you go for a run. You can simply stream your favorite tunes from your wrist.
But there’s a catch. Your watch still needs to connect to the internet. So if you’re going for a run and want to stream music, your watch will need its own cellular internet connection. Around the house, you can use standalone apps by connecting to your home Wi-Fi or via Bluetooth.
Google has also made some significant interface updates for Android Wear 2.0 to make things like notifications easier to read. One particularly interesting improvement is the new QWERTY keyboard Google added to Wear.
Before, you could only reply to messages from your wrist using canned or voice responses. But Android Wear 2.0 now lets you type out your replies or write them. Samsung’s Gear S2 smartwatch also offers a keyboard layout that lets you type responses. The Apple Watch, meanwhile, offers canned, voice and emoji responses.
Android Wear 2.0 also lets you add small bits of information from third-party apps, including things like your steps, notifications, and calories burned throughout the day. Android Wear already offered a handful of watch faces that offered similar complications, but now you can add them to any watch face you want.
The improvements to Android Wear 2.0 certainly sound impressive, but none of them truly make me feel as though I need to go out and buy an Android Wear-powered watch. Still, I’ll reserve my final judgment until I can actually get my hands on an Android Wear 2.0 device.