Android smartwatches have worked with the iPhone for a year and half now, but with extremely limited functionality. Those limitations come mainly from Apple policies: no access to iMessage replies and difficulties getting third-party apps and faces on the watch. So with Wear 2.0, Google has just gone ahead and stuck the Google Play Store right on the watch.
After some initial setup with your phone, smartwatches running the newest software can be more independent — they can track your fitness, stream music from Google Play, download apps, and all the rest directly over Wi-Fi or LTE. Basically, where the iPhone put up roadblocks to features, Android Wear 2.0 just runs around them and does them on its own.
There are a few things that are possible now that were nOt before. You can directly install third-party watchfaces now, a big benefit over the Apple Watch. You can install little weather widgets and fitness apps. And thankfully, you can do so by visiting the Google Play Store from your laptop’s web browser rather than trying to scroll the tiny little watch screen. There are not a ton of apps available yet, but that’s hopefully something that will improve over time. You can query the Google Assistant, which is often more accurate and helpful than Siri.
But for everything that works, there are several things that really don’t. Some of it is because of those Apple policies: there is simply no conceivable world in which Apple is going to allow third-party smartwatches to access iMessages beyond seeing incoming notifications arrive.
Connecting to a Wi-Fi network to download apps is too difficult because you have to manually enter it in on an iPhone (and it only works with older, 2.4GHz networks). The watch itself sometimes just kind of bugs out, so things will slow down and random things fail, like scrolling with the digital crown.
This is a solvable problem: Pebble smartwatches (pour one out) let you select which calendars you want to sync. What it shows is that getting a third-party smartwatch to play nice with an iPhone is hard — but there are ways to do it that minimize those limitations. Android Wear 2.0’s whole purpose is to enact those workarounds, but it doesn’t go as far as it could.
But the biggest issue with Android Wear 2.0 on the iPhone is that the only two watches it’s available on are bad. The LG Watch Sport is way too big, the Style is small and underpowered. The battery life on the latter is downright atrocious if you enable the always-on ambient display.
If you are interested in a smartwatch paired to an iPhone, there is only one question: why should you get something besides the Apple Watch? For Android Wear, the answer is the same today as it was 18 months ago: if you want a round watch instead of a square one.
That is kind of it. The new features, independent apps, and new watches don’t add up to anything particularly compelling.It seem Google is facing an uphill battle trying to get Android Wear working with what is essentially a hostile platform — iOS — one that is not at all interested in making life easy for third-party smartwatches.
But those challenges are all the more reason for Google to show that it can make something that overcomes them.