Google Really Wants Devs to Update Their Android Wear Apps

Google this week released the final build and SDK of its Android Wear 2.0 platform. The revised operating system for wearables makes significant changes throughout for both end users and developers alike. Google is imploring developers to ensure their apps are compatible with the new code.

Android Wear 2.0 has been a long time coming. Google first announced the OS at its Google I/O developer conference in May 2016. It was originally scheduled for a September release, but was pushed to December and eventually to early February. We've finally made it.

The company released the operating system and announced several new smartwatches (from LG) that will be among the first to ship with Android Wear 2.0 aboard. Notably, Google intends to let many existing Android Wear smartwatches update to the revised operating system. This makes it imperative for developers to at least recompile their apps with the latest SDK, even if they don't go through with a new overhaul. So, what's new?

First, the platform introduces a revised user interface based on Google's Material Design. It relies on darker colors, circular UI elements, and enriched notifications that offer inline actions. Complications, which display changing content other than the time, see a huge update. Your app can now supply a much broader set of data via complications within watch faces to improve visibility.

Second, Android Wear supports standalone apps and an on-device version of the Google Play Store. This means Android smartwatch owners can browse through a Wear-compatible apps directly from the wrist. Moreover, they can download and run those apps without relying on a smartphone. Android Wear can also pair with iOS devices, which means you can target all those iPhone owners if you wish.

Android Wear 2.0 brings with it significant changes to hardware support. For starters, the platform fully integrates LTE 4G. Previously, OEMs had to step outside of the official version of Android Wear in order to add LTE to their smartwatches. Now all devices -- and their apps -- can access cellular data for updates. The final SDK adds API support for physical button locations and rotary button input. This matters most if you're updating for the new LG Watch Sport and Watch Style, both of which make use of rotating buttons. Google expects other OEMs to build similar watches down the road.

With new hardware shipping and the final SDK in place, Google is updating the Android Wear App Quality review process. There are two major changes: first, Google says improving phone-based notifications will not be enough to pass review; and second, Google plans to require all watch APKs be compliant with Android Wear 2.0. Apps that meet these criteria will be pushed through the Play Store. This is key if you want your app to be eligible for top charts and visibility on the smartwatch version of the Play Store.

The LG Watch Sport and Watch Style went on sale today (Feb. 10). Be sure those Android Wear apps are compatible with the new platform! If you're new to Android Wear, you can find all the documentation you need right here. System images for select developer devices are available here. 

Eric Zeman I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for ProgrammableWeb and other online properties.

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