Responding to significant developer demand, Google is working on an API that will enable Android Wear developers to create custom watch faces. The new API is slated to be complete by the time Google merges Android Wear into the upcoming release of the next major version of its Android operating system, dubbed Android L.
Android Wear, which was announced earlier this year, aims to create a world in which "information...moves with you" by offering a platform on which developers can build applications to deliver content and functionality to smart wearable devices, such as wristwatches.
The primary user interface of a wristwatch is the watch face and Google knows that this is a component of great interest to developers. According to Google's Wayne Piekarski, "Customization has helped Android thrive, and the same will be true for Android Wear. And to make sure that you’re able to create the richest experience possible, we’re hard at work on a custom watch face API."
Custom watch faces are activities running inside another process. However, they have some special considerations due to interactions with the stream and always-on ambient mode–including using a shorter peek card, moving the status indicators for battery and mute, and rendering the faces differently in ambient mode. Right now, without an official API, making a really great watch face currently takes a fair bit of tweaking.
We are working to make this as simple as possible for you so that it’s easy to make good-looking faces that work well across multiple form factors, conserve battery, and display the user’s card stream nicely. Some of these changes won’t be ready until we migrate Android Wear to the Android L release later this year, but don’t fret: they’re coming!
Piekarski cautioned developers against using the current unpublished watch face API, which may not be compatible with the official release.
APIs: a big part of fashion's future?
With a custom watch face API, developers will suddenly find themselves next-generation watchmakers and ultimately, fashion designers. That presents significant opportunities, but also significant challenges. Wearable tech, and wristwatches in particular, will likely demand that developers deliver form just as compelling as function, something that isn't always required when developing applications for non-wearable devices such as smart phones.
Of course, the success of Google's custom watch face API will depend on the adoption of Android Wear devices, and wearable devices in general. Many believe that wearable tech is poised to become the next big thing in the consumer electronics space. In addition to Google's already public efforts, there are rumors and signs that Apple is working on an iWatch, a development that, if history is any indication, could help propel wearable tech into the mainstream in a big way.
But despite Apple's possible entry into the market, questions remain. Do millions of consumers really want smart watches? And if they do, will developers be able to deliver experiences that are as fashionable as they are functional? The answer to the latter question could depend in large part on the quality and flexibility of the APIs developers are provided.