Android Wear is about to get prettier, better and more useful. In a new update that begins rolling out today, the smartwatch OS will not only be getting some much-requested functionality, but it will feature a bevy of new watch faces that are absolutely drool-worthy.
Those new watch faces are the main new feature here. Google has unleashed its Watch Face API for developers, and now we get to see the first examples of what it can do. Google partnered with a couple dozen designers, brands and artists ahead of the launch, and some of the watch faces they have made are truly impressive. And they're more than just pretty faces. Using the Watch Face API developers can integrate things like weather, calendar data, altitude, data from sensors on the watch or the phone, or data coming from a specific app.
For example, there's the face made by the cycling company Specialized. In addition to having a cool carbon fibre look, it displays the current weather, the sun rise and sun set times, and your current speed, which I assume it pulls from Specialized's app. But it's a great example of information a cyclist might want at a glance. If surfing is your thing, Surfline has a watch face that displays local tide information, wave forecasts and conditions, plus wind direction and speed.
There are also those that are just plain pretty, like the above example from X-ray artist Hugh Turvey. There's a stark, simple watch face from typographic designer Craig Ward, a bronzy one from fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, and sure, why not, cute little minions from Despicable Me. The idea is that there will be the perfect-looking watch face for whatever you're wearing, and for any occasion. That's all good stuff, but there is one watch face that I am way too excited about...
PAC-MAN! Yup, Bandai-Namco made a Pac-Man watch face. Pac-Man himself becomes the second-hand, and he goes around the clock eating dots, fruit, and ghosts. It just shows the time of day. That's it. No weather, no sensor data, but I love it and I want it on my wrist now and you will not stop me.
You'll be able to download these new watch faces one at a time from a special subsection set up on Google Play, so it should make the new faces easy to find and as simple to install as any other Android app.
But wait there's more!
This Android Wear update is more than just a pretty face. There are a bunch of new features coming, too, some of which we've been asking for since June.
First up, you'll finally be able to undo your accidental card removal. Maybe you're used to Tinder where right swiping is a good thing, and you accidentally ditch a card you weren't yet done with. Well, now when you swipe a card away you'll have about 5 seconds to hit Undo and get it back.
There are also two new modes: Sunlight mode and Theatre mode. Sunlight mode temporarily boosts the screen brightness for a short period of time, so if you're suddenly in the blazing sun and struggling to read your watch you won't have to wade through a million settings to get to it. Theatre mode is the opposite. Flip it on, and the screen goes totally black and all incoming notifications are muted. Google is leveraging the hardware button on your watch (should it have one) so a double-click pops you into Theatre mode and a triple click pops you into Sunlight mode. Handy.
Google's also revamped the top-down swipe gesture. Currently, swiping down from the top just toggles notification mute on and off, but now it's a handful of quick settings, including Sunlight and Theatre modes. If your watch is paired with a phone running Lollipop (Android 5.0) then you'll be able to select whether you want all notifications, no notifications, or just priority notifications with settings that you determine.
Another tweak: Currently when you tap your watch display you get the Speak Now screen, then you have to swipe up to get to the launch screen where you pick an action or app to start. Now that will be combined, so you tap the screen and it's ready for your voice command, but it's also already displaying the launch buttons. Even better, your most frequently used apps will be displayed first so they will be easier to access.
There are other improvements included too, such as an easy way to block notifications from any app directly from your watch and supposedly hundreds of bug-fixes that may or may not be obvious. This is probably the biggest update Android Wear has had so far, and it's good to see that Google seems to be taking it seriously and iterating often. Seems like it's intent on getting Android Wear up to snuff before the Apple Watch hits in a few months. Can't wait for that arms race to begin. [Google]