Android Wear 2.0 Arrives: What You Need to Know

It may have taken longer than Google originally anticipated, but Android Wear 2.0 is finally upon us.

Google announced the release of the updated version of its watch operating system today (Feb. 8). Previewed  at last year's Google I/O developer conference, Android Wear 2.0 was originally slated to come out last fall, but Google delayed it until now to offer software makers more time to work with pre-release versions of the OS.

So if you're an Android Wear user or planning to get a new smartwatch sometime in the near future, what can you expect from devices running Android Wear 2.0? Here's a quick rundown of features and how to get your hands on an Android Wear 2.0 device.

What Is Android Wear 2.0?

Android Wear is Google's answer to watchOS, the wearable operating system Apple offers in its Apple Watch. Android Wear lets you run a wearable-sized version of the Android OS on a slew of smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other devices. The operating system provides on-screen control through your wearable, as well as connectivity to your smartphone so the two can talk and deliver notifications, tell you when someone is calling, and share data.

What Devices Will Run Android Wear 2.0?

To mark the launch of the updated smartwatch OS, Google worked with LG to come up with two new watches — the LG Watch Style and LG Watch Sport. They'll go on sale Feb. 10 at the Google Store. The Style will also be available at Best Buy, while the Sport will sell through AT&T and Verizon.

Credit: Google

(Image credit: Google)

Of the two watches, Google bills the $349 LG Watch Sport as the more powerful, since it features a heart rate monitor and NFC support for mobile payments. It also has built-in LTE letting you making calls through the watch without having a smartphone nearby. A 430mAh battery powers the Sport.

MORE: Best Smartwatches - Top Picks for Android and iOS

The $249 LG Watch Style exchanges the heart rate monitor, NFC suport, and built-in LTE for a lower price tag. It's got a 1.2-inch circular display to the 1.38-inch version on the Sport and it runs on a 240 mAh battery. Both watches have 4GB of onboard storage.

LG's watches will have the stage to themselves for a bit, but they won't be the only Android Wear 2.0 devices. Verizon, which will sell the LG Watch Sport, also plans to release a watch of its own next month, the $299 Wear24.

What About Existing Watches?

Google says Android Wear 2.0 is going to be available to supported watches "in the coming weeks." The company provided us with the following list of watches which will be among those getting the Android Wear 2.0 update: Asus's ZenWatch 2  and ZenWatch 3; Casio Smart Outdoor Watch and Pro Trek Smart; Fossil Q Founder, Fossil Q Marshal and Fossil Q Wander; Huawei Watch; LG Watch R; LG Watch Urbane and 2nd Edition LTE; Michael Kors Access Smartwatches; Moto 360 2nd Gen, Moto 360 for Women and Moto 360 Sport; New Balance RunIQ; Nixon Mission; Polar M600; and TAG Heuer Connected.

What's New in Android Wear 2.0?

Expect plenty of changes in the new smartwatch OS, including enhancements to existing features as well as new capabilities.

Google previewed Android Wear 2.0 at the 2016 Google I/O conference.

Google previewed Android Wear 2.0 at the 2016 Google I/O conference.

Perhaps the most noteworthy addition is the arrival of the Google Assistant, which is the personal assistant already featured on products like the Pixel smartphone and the Google Home speaker. With the feature, you'll be able to shout commands and make requests to Google Assistant and have your smartwatch respond accordingly. Commands include the ability to set reminders, make reservations and get directions, among other capabilities. Google says you just need to press down on a Android Wear 2.0 watch's power button or say "OK Google" to activate the assistant.

Android Wear 2.0 also offers you the opportunity to use standalone apps on your device. That means you won't need to have a smartphone connected to the wearable in order to run both Google apps and those developed by third-party software makers — at least for apps that are capable of running as standalone versions. (Otherwise, you'll need a cellular connection for your watch, Google says.) Android Wear 2.0 adds its own Play Store, allowing you to download apps directly onto your watch without having to go through a companion app on your phone.

Google has made other changes to the way the operating system functions by modifying notifications so they're smaller and easier to handle as you're doing other things on your wearable. Apps such as Facebook Messenger, Whats App, Google Messenger and others will let you expand and tap on a notification to respond, either by dictating, typing or handwriting your message; you can also respond by drawing an emoji. A Smart Reply feature suggests automatic responses based on whatever message you've received. Google also says that the notification redesign it's bringing to Android Wear 2.0 should be easier on the battery.

Look for Android Wear 2.0 to offer Google Fit integration to do a better job of tracking your health and activity. Specifically, the revamped pre-installed app will track pace, distance and calories burned during workouts; it will also monitor heart rate if you've got a watch capable of supporting that feature such as the LG Watch Sport. Cellular-connected Android Wear 2.0 devices will be able to stream music and let you make calls during workouts.

Credit: Google

(Image credit: Google)

Google has also spruced up watch faces, letting you add complications that give quick access to appointments, stock prices and fitness data among other things. Essentially, you'll be able to add data from any app when you customize an Android Wear 2.0 watch face.

And as noted early, Google Pay support comes to Android Wear 2.0, at least if you've got a watch with built-in NFC support.

Will All This Work Just with Android Devices?

Android Wear 2.0 should be friendlier to iPhones if developer releases of the OS are any indication. If you've got an iPhone, you should be able to install standalone apps, receive all notifications and launch webpages on your phone from a watch app.

What About Third-Party Apps?

Since Android Wear 2.0 introduces a new Play store on the device, Google has spent considerable time working with developers that have already created Android Wear apps to ensure they can accommodate the new on-device feature. During the lengthy development process for Android Wear 2.0, Google specifically alerted developers to a requirement asking them to ensure their apps will work with the new feature. Those who do not will have their apps removed from the search function in the on-device Play store.

So if you're worried about third-party apps supporting Android Wear 2.0, don't be — Google has you covered.

Don Reisinger is CEO and founder of D2 Tech Agency. A communications strategist, consultant, and copywriter, Don has also written for many leading technology and business publications including CNET, Fortune Magazine, The New York Times, Forbes, Computerworld, Digital Trends, TechCrunch and Slashgear. He has also written for Tom's Guide for many years, contributing hundreds of articles on everything from phones to games to streaming and smart home.