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article imageGoogle makes Android Wear 2.0 work more like 1.0

By James Walker     Dec 14, 2016 in Technology
Google has announced a new developer preview of Android Wear 2.0, the upcoming release of the company's wearable operating system. The latest update reverses changes to some of the platform's behaviour, making it more like the version it's replacing.
Android Wear 2.0 Developer Preview 4 was announced on the Android Developer's Blog yesterday. The update was supposed to launch this fall but has now been postponed until next year. Google has confirmed there'll be at least one more developer preview after this one.
Android Wear appears to be stalling in development. Amid the delays and rescheduling, Google has decided to roll back some of the behaviour and functionality changes Android Wear 2.0 was set to include. The company has brought back one of 1.0's key mechanisms in response to feedback from beta testers.
Google has re-implemented Android Wear's old "swipe-to-dismiss" navigation system. This allowed you to swipe right on any screen to return to the previous menu or exit the app. The model worked well but Google decided to change it for 2.0. Instead of swiping on the display, pressing a device's power button would act as a back key inside apps.
That decision has now been reversed. Google recognised that swipe-to-dismiss was viewed as an "intuitive time-saver," unlike the new power button functionality. Google appears to have realised that the old method was faster and easier to use from any angle, as well as avoiding the need to force manufacturers to add a hardware key.
Reaching for the power button every time you need to go back could end up being uncomfortable and a distraction from what's on the display. Pressing the power button now goes "home" to the main watch face, as with Wear 1.0.
"Many of you have given us the feedback that the swipe-to-dismiss gesture from Android Wear 1.0 is an intuitive time-saver," said Google. "We agree, and have reverted to the previous behavior with this developer preview release."
Another major change in Developer Preview 4 is the addition of compatibility with Android Wear 1.0 apps. Previously, Android Wear 2.0 didn't support existing apps because of changes to how third-party software runs on watches.
Apps can now be directly installed to watches, rather than run from a phone. This has prevented 1.0-era apps from working on 2.0 hardware though. That changes with Developer Preview 4 as Google has added a compatibility layer that enables support for first-generation "embedded apps."
The preview also comes with a few other features and improvements. Developers can now streamline authentication and sign-ins to apps by displaying the login form on your phone rather than the watch. There's also support for in-app billing and cross device promotion that notifies you when a watch app is available.
Android Wear 2.0 will now release at some point in early 2017. The platform's struggles to evolve into a new major version reflect wider issues in the wearable market. Recently, rival smartwatch maker Pebble sold itself to Fitbit after effectively running out of money.
Wearable sales are plummeting every quarter and Android Wear has had no new hardware launches for some time. Motorola, a leading Wear manufacturer, has said it has no plans to launch a new watch next year after observing very low market demand.
Faced with these issues, Wear 2.0 will need to do a lot to convince consumers to adopt smartwatches. Google's decision to bring back features from 1.0 highlights the struggles of companies trying to innovate in the area, painting a bleak picture for the future of wearables.
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