Leave Your Phone At Home With The New Android Wear

Google's new smartwatch operating system, announced today, will include the ability to untether from your phone, plus a keyboard, handwriting recognition, and more personalization.

At its annual developers conference today in Mountain View, Google announced a forthcoming software update designed to untether its smartwatches from phones and more easily help you to — as Android Wear engineering manager David Singleton — “stay connected to what matters, to important timely information, to people you love, and to your health, all from your wrist.”

Android Wear 2.0, available now as a preview for developers and widely in the fall, is “our biggest platform update yet,” Singleton said. Since launching two years ago, the operating system has come to power watches from a dozen brands, from Michael Kors to Casio, and works with both Android and iOS.

The new version will be able to use machine learning to figure out the context of your message and churn out text replies that you can send with a tap to keep a conversation going. Also included in Android Wear 2.0: A tiny keyboard, and a handwriting-recognition feature that lets you swipe letters on the screen.

You can also make calls directly on a watch, as well as use apps, without needing your phone to be on. That’s because Android Wear 2.0-powered watches will be able to connect to WiFi on their own, or operate purely on cellular when on the go — a change that will let runners leave their phone armbands at home.

Finally, the new operating system will be more personalizable. People can already change out watch straps on a whim and choose from thousands of watch faces; with Android Wear 2.0, they’ll be able to adjust the watch face to show data from any app. (As demonstrated during the presentation, an LG watch could contain a calorie count from Lifesum, a stock graph from Robin hood, and a to-do list of tasks from Google Calendar.)

“Over the past two years, we've learned a lot about what people want and don’t want from a watch,” Singleton told the crowd at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. Wearables, Android Wear ones included, are increasingly capable of calling up almost any kind of information and tracking all sorts of biometrics. But people don’t necessarily want every last thing on their wrist — and those capabilities don’t matter, anyway, if they can’t be accessed quickly and from anywhere. With Android Wear 2.0, Google is honing in on what smartwatch users seem to really want: convenience.

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