When Google changed the name of its smartwatch OS from Android Wear to Wear OS, I was pissed. Not because the name sucked, as Wear OS does do a better job of reflecting the platform’s support for both Android and iOS devices. The problem was that the rebranding didn’t come with any new features or updates that advanced the capabilities of the platform. That meant the name change was more symbolic than anything, or at the very least, poorly timed.
However, after checking out a preview of the next version of Wear OS at Google I/O 2018, it seems Google could be finally turning around its floundering smartwatch system, which as of late has seen much more success in the hands of fashion brands like Louis Vuitton or Movado than traditional tech makers, who had largely abandoned Android Wear/Wear OS.
That’s because in addition to a slick new dark-themed UI, by empowering the Google Assistant in Wear OS, Google has figured out something that can set Wear OS apart from the Apple Watch or Samsung’s Gear S family.
In previous versions of Wear OS, you could ask the Assistant questions and get a response, but that’s about it. However, in the new Wear OS, the Google Assistant has the ability to make smart suggestions based on your questions. So for example, after asking about the weather, the Assistant in Wear OS will also provide you with an extended forecast covering the next five days.
Alternatively, if you ask the Assistant about an upcoming flight, it can provide little buttons right on the watch, so you can tap on one to learn about an airline’s baggage policies, a list of connecting flights, and what time your check-in is. And like the Google Assistant on your phone or a Google-powered smart speaker, the Assistant in Wear OS now has full Actions support so you can turn on your robo vacuum, get updates on the stock market or check the local subway schedule without needing to use a different device.
And for when you’re too busy to look down at your wrist, the new Wear OS update also includes a new text-to-speech function that plays back answers via connected Bluetooth headphones, or even on the watch itself, assuming it has a built-in speaker.
While Google representatives were hesitant to talk upcoming features past what’s contained in the latest update (which should be rolling out to Wear OS watches now), when I spoke to the Wear OS team at Google I/O, they also teased future improvements to Wear OS’ fitness and health tracking and battery life that could arrive within the next few months. And with a new dev cycle that features smaller, monthly updates instead of big- once-a-year dumps, along with a rumored LG smartwatch with a slick circular UI, Wear OS’ trajectory seems like its finally on the upswing.