While the next generation of Google’s Wear OS smartwatch platform has been the focus of a lot of buzz lately, the company announced today that it’s revamping the Play Store for the current Wear OS. You’ll now be able to remotely install apps from your phone and the on-wrist Play Store is also getting an Android 12 Material You-inspired design.
For starters, when you search for apps on your phone, you can now add “watch” or “watch face” to your search query to bring up more relevant results. Hitting the dropdown arrow will also display which devices are eligible to receive the download. Compatible devices will be pre-selected, but this is a neat improvement, because it leaves no room for confusion as to whether an app downloaded on your phone will also appear on your watch. It’s a welcome update, considering how annoying it is to download apps directly onto your wrist—a problem that’s yet to be solved on any smartwatch.
However, if you are a unicorn who actually prefers direct downloads, Google has also refreshed how the Play Store looks on the wrist. The new design puts information on cards that are easier to read and navigate on small displays. If you need to make an in-app purchase, Wear OS will transfer that transaction back to your phone or provide a URL to do it in a browser.
If you’re not seeing the new experience on your Wear OS watch, you might have to wait a bit. Google said updates are rolling out to the Google Play Store on Android and Wear OS “in the coming weeks.”
These aren’t huge updates, but they are meaningful. Since Google and Samsung announced they’re working together on a new unified platform, it’s been an open question as to what that means for current Wear OS users. Right now, it’s unclear whether existing watches will be compatible with the new platform. (Fossil has already clarified that theirs will not, but other Wear OS watch makers’ plans are still up in the air.) Google has understandably not said much about timelines either, given how fragmented the space is. Improving the app download experience at least indicates that Google hasn’t tossed the current Wear OS to the side.
That matters. Even if the new unified Wear is a smashing success, transition periods are never easy. There are undoubtedly going to be some hiccups along the way, and while you can always count on first adopters to go full Leroy Jenkins, it’s fair to assume most folks will want to wait until the dust settles a bit. Plus, anyone who’s recently bought a Wear OS smartwatch shouldn’t have to ditch that device right away. Those people deserve a Wear OS that remains functional until they’re ready to make the switch—and this is an encouraging sign that Google’s taken that into consideration.
We don’t know exactly when the new Wear OS will go live, but it’s safe to assume late August might be our first glimpse based on when the new Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is rumored to launch. That, however, will run a version of Wear OS with Samsung’s OneUI Watch experience layered on top. We’ll have to wait another Wear OS watch maker launches next-gen devices to see what the pure Wear experience will be. In any case, after years of limbo, it’s refreshing to see Android smartwatches finally get some love.