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Android Wear 2.0 Beefs Up Text Input, Fitness Tracking

Your wrist is about to get a whole lot smarter. Today at Google I/O, the company announced the next generation of its smartwatch platform, Android Wear 2.0. Due sometime this fall, the new wearable OS adds a slew of new features, including standalone apps, handwriting recognition, customizable faces and activity recognition for fitness users.

During a keynote demo, Google execs demonstrated how upcoming watch faces will be able to display up-to-date information from a number of sources. Google Product Manager Jeff Chang showed off a current-model LG Urbane, which had an analog face with circles that contained his stock quotes, task list and daily calorie count. He then swiped up on the screen to show even more tasks than fit on the face. We can imagine someone designing a social media watch face that shows your latest updates and messages.

Though the current Android Wear OS can work with certain third-party keyboards, Google is now building both a QWERTY keyboard and handwriting recognition into the watch. On stage, Google showed a user replying to a message about when someone would like to meet by simply scribbling "3 pm" onto the screen and having the OS convert it to ASCII text. With the ability to input text like this, the phone becomes infinitely more valuable as a messaging tool. A new feature called "Smart Reply," also gives you suggested replies based on the context of your messages.

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Android Wear 2.0 watches will also be able to perform most tasks, without being paired with a phone. Google said that a new generation of "stand alone" apps will run exclusively on the watch and that, every feature it showed during the demo would work on an unpaired watch.

The new Android Wear watches will also add several fitness features, including "automatic activity detection," which knows when you're starting an activity without you pressing a button. However, several other watches, including the Pebble Time, already have this capability.

The watch-based Google Fit system will also allow different apps to talk to each other so your food diary app and your exercise app will know both how many calories you consumed and how many you burned. Launching music as you exercise will be easier too; Google said you'll be able to start Spotify directly from the watch face.

There's no word yet about whether existing Android Wear watches will get an update or if you'll have to buy a brand new device to get the operating system. Though the official Android Wear 2.0 launch will be this fall, developers can download a preview version starting today.

Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.