Google’s next-generation smartwatch platform, Android Wear 2.0, will not be seeing the light of day this year. The company announced today that it is delaying the launch of the update, which was originally scheduled for this fall, to sometime in early 2017.
Instead of launching the final version this fall, Google is extending the developer preview program for Android Wear 2.0, and today it’s releasing the third preview of the platform for developers. The company says that it is using the extra time to fine tune the software via feedback from developers, and it will have another preview build released before the end of the year. Today’s version adds a number of new features, most notable of which is the Play Store for smartwatches.
The Play Store for Android Wear 2.0 will let smartwatch owners browse and download apps and watchfaces directly to their watches, without having to install them on their phones. It’s a big part of Google’s pitch to make Android Wear 2.0 less dependent on phones and more of an independent platform. It also will allow iOS users to install third-party watchfaces and apps on an Android Wear watch, which was previously limited to Android only. (The Play Store on Android Wear with iOS is not yet supported in this version, Google says that will come in a later developer preview.)
Android Wear 2.0’s Play Store will work when the watch is connected to a phone over Bluetooth or when it’s connected to a Wi-Fi or cellular network (on devices with cellular connectivity). Purchases for paid apps will need to be authenticated on the phone with this version, though Google says it plans to eliminate that requirement with future versions.
In addition to the Play Store, this developer preview, which can be installed on the Huawei Watch and the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE, adds voice assistant functionality (was missing from earlier builds); better user interface elements for round displays; improvements to complications and permissions; inline actions for notifications; and Google’s Smart Reply feature. Smart Reply is part of Google’s larger Assistant platform and provides contextual replies for incoming messages. Google says that Allo and Hangouts are already using it and developers will be able to enable it in their apps with this build.
Google says that the delay for the launch of Android Wear 2.0 is so that the company can hit the quality requirements it has for the platform when it is publicly launched and not because of specific hardware delays. Though major Android Wear partners such as Motorola, Huawei, and LG have said they won’t be launching any more Wear smartwatches this year, Google points to recent devices from Asus, Fossil, Michael Kors, Polar, and Nixon as evidence of the vibrancy of the platform. Google says that all of the devices currently in the market will support Android Wear 2.0 when the final version launches next year.
Still, with the delay of Android Wear 2.0 and the absence of new devices from the tech companies Google’s worked with in the past, Google is ceding the lucrative holiday season to Apple and Samsung, which already have a sizable lead over Android Wear in the smartwatch market.
Android Wear 2.0 is the biggest update to Google’s smartwatch platform since its original launch in 2014 and it promises to be really interesting and potentially useful. But in order to do that, it has to first arrive.
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