Google’s redesigned smartwatch apps debut on Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 series
Today at its Galaxy Unpacked event, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Watch 4 and the Watch 4 Classic, the first smartwatches to run Wear OS 3, the new version of Wear OS co-developed by Samsung and Google. To coincide with the launch of Samsung’s new hardware, Google today unveiled updated versions of its smartwatch apps that are debuting on the Galaxy Watch 4 series.
Back at Google’s I/O developer conference in May, the company announced that it had partnered with Samsung to rebuild Wear OS — the Android-based OS for smartwatches — from the ground up. The new operating system combines the best of Samsung’s Tizen OS for smartwatches with Google’s Wear OS, resulting in a “unified smartwatch platform.” The new OS is officially called Wear OS 3, and it’s debuting on Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 series but will eventually be made available through an update for some existing smartwatches. The Galaxy Watch 4 series doesn’t run stock Wear OS 3, though, which is why the OS on them is officially called “Wear OS Powered by Samsung.” Furthermore, the smartwatches feature a custom interface on top of the OS called “One UI Watch“, but it’s worth noting that both smartwatches still run the same underlying OS that some current and future smartwatches will run.
That’s why Google’s announcement today coincides with the launch of Samsung’s new products — the Galaxy Watch 4 is the hero device for Google’s updated software. In its blog post, Google highlights five new Wear OS 3 experiences that are debuting on the Galaxy Watch 4 series. These include updated versions of Google Maps, Messages by Google, and Google Pay; the release of a YouTube Music app; and updates to multiple popular third-party apps that bring support for the Tiles API.
Google refreshes its smartwatch apps with Material You
Smartwatch versions of Google Maps, Messages by Google, and Google Pay already exist, but they’re getting a fresh coat of paint to match the rest of the system’s new UI design in Wear OS 3. The redesigned versions of these apps follow Google’s Material You design language for smartwatches.
Like before, the Google Maps app supports sending turn-by-turn directions from your phone to your watch, syncs with the Maps app on your phone, and will show your home and work addresses as well as your recent searches for easy access. Likewise, the Messages by Google app lets you send and receive messages without you needing to take out your phone, and it also syncs conversations between your phone and your watch. Google Pay also isn’t getting any new functionality, though the updated version makes it easier to swipe through your stored credit cards by making them larger.
All three apps are available to download from Google Play on your watch or your phone, though the Messages app will come preinstalled on the Galaxy Watch 4 if you live outside of the U.S., South Korea, or Japan. Both the Messages and Maps apps function in virtually every country, though Google Pay’s availability is still limited. However, Google is expanding Pay support to 16 new countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, Taiwan, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates.
YouTube Music comes to Wear OS…finally
When Google shut down Play Music last year, they didn’t have a smartwatch app for YouTube Music — Google’s replacement for Play Music — ready. At I/O this year, Google confirmed it planned to launch a YouTube Music app on Wear OS, and it’s finally here.
YouTube Music for Wear OS is a standalone smartwatch app that lets YouTube Music Premium subscribers download music for offline listening. The app comes with a “Smart Downloads” feature, which refreshes the songs you’ve downloaded to your watch when it’s charging and connected to Wi-Fi. The app doesn’t come preloaded on the Galaxy Watch 4 series, but it can be downloaded from Google Play.
Third-party apps now have Tiles
Tiles are essentially Wear OS’s equivalent to widgets, though due to limited space on the home screen, they’re accessible by swiping from the right. Since mid-2019, the Tiles feature has been exclusive to platform apps from Google and OEMs, but that changed earlier this year when Google released a Tiles library for third-party developers. Today, Google highlighted the launch of updates to many popular third-party Wear OS apps, including Calm, Komoot, MyFitnessPal, Period Tracker, Sleep Cycle, Spotify, and Strava. Many of these third-party apps are getting updated with support for the Tiles API starting today.
In a separate blog post, Google says that developers can create a custom Tile by downloading an Alpha release of the Jetpack Tiles API. Once done, they can upload their updated app to Google Play for users to start seeing the Tiles. They can also attach a screenshot showing their app’s Tile within the Play Console.
What’s coming to existing Wear OS 2 smartwatches?
Google says that existing smartwatches running Wear OS 2 will also support the new version of Messages by Google, expanded country availability in Google Pay, and updated apps from third-party developers in the coming weeks, but Google’s post sadly doesn’t mention support for the new Google Maps version or YouTube Music rolling out to existing smartwatches.