Wear OS has long needed a shot in the arm and 2021 is the year it’s finally getting one: Google is joining hands with Samsung to introduce a unified platform that combines the best of Tizen and Wear OS. Apart from under-the-hood changes that make the experience a lot smoother and slicker, a few native apps and tiles are getting redesigned, with the latter finally opening up for third-party developers.
Google hasn’t shed much light on how each app or interface is going to look like. So, even though we know Google Assistant is being “redesigned and improved,” it’s anyone’s guess what it will ultimately look like. What we do know is a bit about what to expect from three salient Wear OS apps.
Google Pay is one reason why many users still swear by their Android smartwatches and it’s only getting better. The app sheds the older design for a new, cleaner one that makes it easier to read card information. Google is also bumping support from 11 countries up to 26 in the coming months, and will let users pay for transit in more than 200 major metros worldwide.
Google Maps is also getting friendlier on the wrist. While we’re not sure whether it’s completely overhauling the smartphone interface for Maps, it is getting a new one that should be easier to follow. Instead of showing you your location on a map, it will give turn-by-turn directions with hard-to-miss arrows. The ETA and the current time are slotted at the top.
Google has finally announced the alternative to Google Play Music for Wear OS, only several months after it was killed. Yes, YouTube Music for Wear is finally coming and it also offers offline playback. However, this will only be available for paying Premium subscribers. If you’re not too big on the music service, though, you might be glad to learn that Spotify on Wear is getting a makeover too.
Google is also giving some love to tiles and most of the existing ones are receiving a facelift. The most notables ones include the weather and the alarm tile. There’s also a new handwash tile, though I’m not sure how intuitive that will be. Some of Fitbit’s features are also coming to the platform (we don’t have the specifics yet) and there’s a dedicated tile for that too.
However, the bigger news here is that you’ll no longer be left to deal with the tiles that Google and smartwatch OEMs ship. Third-party app developers are finally getting access to a new Tiles API that will make it easy to develop custom tiles.
Google has already teased tiles for popular third-party apps like Spotify, Calm, Strava, Adidas, Sleep Cycle, and Hole 19, and we can expect to see a lot more before the end of this year.
While we don’t have the complete picture of the new Wear OS experience yet (or which smartwatches will get it), the glimpse we’ve got shines a light of hope on a platform that was on the verge of being yet another Google project to get the ax.