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Android Wear 2.0 — standalone apps, improved fitness and more!

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Smartwatches are nifty little devices that have mostly functioned as extensions of your smartphone. While that can be useful, it also means that your smartwatches are often nothing more than watches when you leave your smartphone behind.

Google wants to change that with Android Wear 2.0, giving smartwatches more independence to be smart.

Android Wear was never the best watch operating system in the market as it had many limitations and relies heavily on your smartphone to do the heavy lifting. With Android Wear 2.0, Google is putting that power back in the watch, giving it more customisability and freedom than ever before.

Perhaps the biggest update isthat Android Wear 2.0 now supports standalone apps. In other words, the apps on your smartwatch can have direct access to the cloud and will not need a smartphone to function properly. This eliminates one of Android Wear’s biggest weaknesses and should allow for a much better smartwatch experience.

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Google also focused on three key aspects during the development of Android Wear 2.0. The first is Android Wear’s watch face, followed by messaging and finally fitness.

The Android OS as we know and love has always been one that gave you the freedom to customise your device the way you see fit. With Android Wear, that meant you could choose from thousands of watch faces and make your Android Wear watch look exactly the way you wanted.

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One big limitation was the fact that information that could be displayed on each watch face was decided by the creator of that watch face, not the end user. With Android Wear 2.0, Google is letting any watch face show any data from any app so you can mix and match as you see fit.

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Next, Google tries their hand at tackling smartwatch messaging, or the biggest problem with smartwatch messaging — typing on that tiny screen. The end result? Well, Google is giving you three different input modes, powered by Google’s machine learning, so you can pick the one that best suits you.

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The first of these inputs is the Smart Reply. This input method understands the context of your message and prepares several appropriate responses. Handwriting, on the other hand, lets you scribble on your smartwatch’s display (like you would with a stylus) with your finger to write out specific replies. Finally, there’s a more conventional keyboard with swipe support that gets better the more you use it.

Last, but certainly not least, we arrive at fitness. Fitness tracking is growing increasingly important when it comes to smart wearables, evident by the popularity of devices from manufacturers like FitBit. Android Wear 2.0, has far greater support for fitness which includes a new automatic activity recognition feature.

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Automatic activity recognition on Android Wear 2.0 works very similarly to what we’ve seen from FitBit where the watch automatically detects if you’re in a workout and starts tracking it without any input from the user. The Google Fit app also supports data exchange with other fitness apps via its API, allowing data to sync across applications. So, information like calories consumed in one nutrition app can sync with calories burnt in another fitness app.

But the thing that will probably get the most people excited is that now, thanks to Android Wear 2.0’s support for standalone apps, you can stream music from your watch with an app like Spotify without needing to bring your smartphone with you.

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These improvements in Android Wear 2.0 will undoubtedly benefit smartwatches with cellular support (like the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE) as it can turn your smartwatch into a capable secondary device by itself. This could be the sign manufacturers need to put more effort into developing smartwatches with cellular connectivity to take full advantage of what Android Wear 2.0 has to offer.

While Android Wear 2.0 will only start rolling out in the fall, developers can now download a preview version of the OS from the Android Developer website.