The Google I/O keynote didn’t miss its chance to update us on the progress of Android Wear. The dedicated wearable platform has really come a long way for its relatively short life and third-party developers have played a major part in this success.
During the presentation the popularity of Android Wear was put into numbers and, it appears that Google-powered smartwatches now have a flourishing ecosystem with over 4000 dedicated apps at their disposal.
The OS has also gotten a lot smarter with its latest Lollipop-based version. The update initially made its debut on the LG Watch Urbane, but is now beginning to seed to other compatible devices as well, quickly bringing most of the Android Wear user-base up to date.
One of the exciting new features in Android Wear 5.1.1 is the added ability to have always-on applications. This allows a developer to leave certain information on the screen of you smartwatch even when it gets dimmed or turned off and have it pop back up when you interact with the wearable, just like a watch face. This opens up a lot of new possibilities and interesting use cases, like monitoring your workout progress, navigation route or even pizza delivery. A lot of Wear applications already take advantage of this feature and more are sure to come soon.
Another major part of the new Android Wear update is ease of use and improved user experience. This is achieved through a neat rearrangement of the user interface. Apps are now logically laid out along with the smartwatches other features, so no more clunky menu surfing. There are also things like transparent notifications that appear on top of the currently running process, without breaking the user flow, as well as automatically generated and convenient lists of most-used apps and options in various menus.
Gestures are also a lot more-intuitive with Wear 5.1.1. The OS now takes better advantage of onboard sensors. Information cards, notifications and panels can now we traversed by simply flicking your wrist up and down. The control scheme is quite convenient.
Last, but not least, Android Wear now has a fun emoji feature. It is quite reminiscent of Apple’s similar feature and yet, quite different. The idea is that you can doodle a simple shape on the screen and then Wear suggests a few emote icons that might resemble what you have drawn. You can then send one ore many such icons in a message.