Google's Android Wear 2.0 update has been revealed after months of Developer Previews for select watches. Coupled with this update is a pair of watches made by LG — with Google's guidance — the LG Watch Sport and the LG Watch Style. There's a lot to unpack about all three, but the first thing Apple Watch fans will notice is a new control mechanism for Android Wear.
Andrew Martonik, in his LG Watch Sport Review:
Perhaps my favorite part about the Android Wear 2.0 update is its new emphasis on "rotational input." The new interaction method lets companies create smartwatches that can use other forms of input than just the touch screen, like LG did with a rotating crown on the Watch Sport and Watch Style. Rotational input isn't simply translating spinning hardware into touch, either — it's a whole new form of interaction that developers have to specifically target and choose what to do. For example it's used for scrolling throughout the interface, but zooming on Google Maps — developers can run with it.
Google's adoption of a scrolling-friendly UI isn't merely a Digital Crown clone, though: there's a specific focus on hardware manufacturers being able to implement a rotating bezel like the Samsung Gear S3 if desired.
LG's larger watch includes NFC for Android Pay, a first for Android Wear watches, as well as a cellular radio for LTE support. The cost for these features is a significantly larger body and the inability to replace the watch band, since the radio antennae are woven into the band to ensure quality cellular service.
Finally recognizing that not everyone wants a large watch, the LG Watch Style offers something much slimmer and more stylish. But it's not without compromise, as Florence Ion points out in her review:
You won't get the new fitness tracking abilities of Android Wear 2.0 on the Watch Style, and that's primarily because of hardware limitations. Unlike the Watch Sport, the Style doesn't have a heart-rate monitor, a barometer, or standalone GPS. It doesn't have NFC, either, which is the real tragedy here, considering how close to perfect the Watch Style would be if I could just pay for stuff with it.
This decision to offer form and function as separate products is an interesting decision, but the reason for this is reflected in the OS itself. Google's complete UX overhaul in Android Wear 2.0 is a focus on almost modular personalization. A new Complications API — yes, that's really what they called it — and apps that can now be installed and run entirely separate of the phone make an argument for many kinds of users.
It's possible to own a watch that is simply a notification bucket on your wrist, but it's also possible to replace your phone entirely for extended periods of time. As Russell Holly points out in his Android Wear 2.0 OS review, this strategy has a lot to do with how Google sees interacting with iPhone owners moving forward:
This is how Google creates the same Android Wear experience regardless of the phone platform you're using. If the app is on the Play Store, and the Play Store is on the wrist, it won't matter that you have an iPhone connected.
Several hardware manufacturers have come forward with plans to release new hardware with Android Wear 2.0 onboard, but it remains to be seen how many of these new features are going to be considered useful. If nothing else, this update confirms a lot of decisions Apple made early on with watchOS.