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Google Just Made Wear OS Smartwatches Easier to Use

It’s unlikely that Google will take the wraps off its own Wear OS smartwatch at Google I/O next week, but the company is improving the platform with a new feature called Tiles.

Tiles is a new way to navigate Wear OS watches, which is rolling out as a software update over the next month. Instead of pressing the crown on an Android smartwatch to access the app drawer, you can now swipe left on the home screen to see shortcuts to information you would want to view at a glance. No third-party apps are available as Tiles to start, but Google has put goals, next event, weather forecast, headlines and a timer accessible with a swipe. Tiles could improve the performance of Wear OS watches, which lag behind speedier rivals such as the Apple Watch Series 4 and Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active.

In a GIF of the new interface in action on what appears to be a Fossil Sport, the Tiles appear to make the entire experience smoother and faster. We’ll put this to the test when the update rolls out to see if the new interface improves Wear OS in a meaningful way.

Google has been working to improve the Wear OS experience over the last several months. Last fall, the company rolled out a major upgrade that put Google Assistant and Google Fit front and center. A swipe to the right pulled up Google Assistant’s proactive view, with your most important notifications and calendar events up top. A swipe to the left showed your progress toward filling the octagonal rings that represent Google Fit’s Move Minutes and Heart Points, measurements of daily fitness progress.

But the biggest problem with Wear OS isn’t its navigation. Watches that run on Google’s platform are just plain slow — even the Fossil Sport, which uses Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip. The performance lag, especially compared to the Apple Watch and Galaxy Watch, is noticeable.

Tiles might not make a huge difference, but Google could have bigger plans in store. Earlier this year, the company acquired intellectual property (and employees) from its main Wear OS hardware partner, Fossil. Hopefully we’ll see the results — perhaps an entirely new device — from that acquisition sooner rather than later.