Google is stepping up its game in wearables with a new set of design guidelines for Wear OS smartwatch apps. The changes will help ensure that software on the platform has a more premium and consistent look and feel.
It’s fair to say, some Wear OS apps currently lack visual polish. But that is expected to change with these new guidelines. The goal is to provide users with a premium experience similar to that provided by the Apple Watch. In some ways, this could be interpreted as Google admiting its apps fall short of their Apple watchOS counterparts in terms of quality.
Three main changes
The new policy will go into effect on August 31, 2023. This should give app developers plenty of time to adapt to the new rules. There are three major changes being implemented to improve the smartwatch experience.
The first is that all apps and tiles must have a black background. Beyond consistancy, this may have a secondary benefit in helping to extend battery life a bit.
The second change pertains to ongoing activities. From end-August, an ongoing activity indicator must be displayed on the watch face and recent apps must be updated with the appropriate app launcher chip.
Finally, the time of day should be clearly displayed at the top of the app’s home screen as well as any ongoing activity screens.
Google’s new guidelines cover visual experience, functionality, performance, and Google Play listings. They are intended to provide Wear OS users with a consistent, intuitive, and enjoyable experience. The company is aiming to improve app quality and discoverability of quality apps across the Wear OS ecosystem by carefully considering app design, optimal functional behaviour, and Google Play experiences.
Furthermore, all Wear OS apps will need to target Android 11 (API level 30). Apps that target lower levels will no longer be discoverable to all Google Play users whose devices run Android OS versions newer than the app’s target API level. This is done to ensure that the apps meet the safety and quality standards that users have come to expect from newer Wear OS versions.
Setting the stage for Wear OS 4
These modifications may not appear to be dramatic. However, Google is taking them seriously because they will improve user experience. This is required in order to keep up with Apple and others in the fast-paced world of wearable technology. Especially since newcomers such as Xiaomi are expected to enter the fray with the release of a Wear OS watch later this year.
Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets
At the moment it is unclear whether Wear OS 4 will be released this year or next. It’s quite possible that we’ll only get an interim version in 2023.
Perhaps these changes are setting the stage for the next edition of Google’s operating system. With the release of Pixel Watch and the acquisition of Fitbit, Google appears to now be committed to this space. We are pleased to see the company making progress with its operating system.
As far as what to expect from Wear OS 4, it will apparently be based on Android 13. Nothing else is known at the moment, but you can check out our article detailing what we would like to see from the next big software update.
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