Google Adds Play Store to Android Wear Platform

Google today released a new developer preview of Android Wear 2.0. This latest build is the third from Google and brings the smartwatch platform one step closer to its general release. Google added some killer new features to the operating system, but not all the news is good.

First, the good news: Android Wear now has its very own version of the Google Play Store. Google says Play Store for Android Wear will allow smartwatch owners to browse and search for apps using voice, keyboard, handwriting, and recommended queries. Moreover, users can switch between multiple accounts, join beta testing, and update/uninstall apps directly from their wrist. Google says Android Wear 2.0 negates the need for phone-based apps, so users can install apps directly to the watch with no phone companion. Yes, that means developers can now build and publish watch-only apps. The idea here is to make it easier for users to discover and download apps. 

"We asked developers what [they] wanted most out of Android Wear, and [they] told us [they] wanted to make it easier for users to discover apps," explained Google in a blog post. "So we ran studies with users to find out where they expected and wanted to discover apps––and they repeatedly looked for and asked for a way to discover apps right on the watch itself. Along with improvements to app discovery on the phone and Web, the Play Store on the watch helps users find apps right where they need them." This is a huge step forward for the platform. 

Google has published documentation for developers that provides all the details they need to make their apps available on Play Store for Android Wear. For starters, developers will need to make sure their apps are set to minSDK Version 24 or higher, use the runtime permissions model, and upload via the multi-APK tool in the Play Developer Console. 

In addition to the Play Store, Android Wear 2.0 Developer Preview 3 also makes improvements to complications, adds inline actions for notifications, and smart replies. The preview is more strict about enforcing permissions in the complications console, but has eased the process of doing so. The refreshed complications tools also allow watch face developers to set default complications that don't require user permissions, such battery life or step counts. The WearableRecyclerView console helps developers create vertical lists and other UI components that work equally well on rectangular and round watch faces. Android Wear now creates Smart Reply responses for messaging notifications entirely on the watch thanks to machine learning. 

The inline notifications tool is handled by a new API, according to Google. The API allows apps to take action on notifications right from the info stream. Moreover, developers can specify which actions are displayed at the bottom of the notification via the API call.

In order to get started, developers will need to install a beta version of the Android Wear app on their phone, flash their watch to the latest preview release, and then use the phone app to add a Google Account to the watch. Detailed directions are available here. (Developers who don't have Android Wear devices on hand can use the software emulator.) 

Now for the bad news. Google has pushed back the general release of Android Wear 2.0 from the fourth quarter of 2016 to "early 2017." Technically, Google never provided an actual, intended release date for Android Wear 2.0, though it strongly implied the platform would become available during the fall months. Looks like we'll all be waiting until winter. 

Be sure to read the next Wearable article: How to Develop Wearable Apps with Connect IQ