Developers can now enable hardware acceleration for Wear OS watch faces
Google’s Wear OS platform doesn’t get the same amount of love as Android for smartphones, but it still gets the occasional update that adds new features. That slow approach matches the low number of Wear OS smartwatches we see get launched every year. Wear OS smartwatches with less than 1GB of RAM tend to struggle with UI performance in some areas, but thanks to the addition of hardware acceleration for watch faces, developers should be able to make things run a little better.
The advantage of hardware acceleration for watch faces is the GPU can accelerate rendering the watch face UI and animations/transitions at higher frame rates. I’ve noticed Wear OS watch faces can sometimes stutter, especially right when the display wakes up. Hardware acceleration can help make watch faces feel just a little silkier.
Wear OS apps have been able to take advantage of hardware acceleration for a while, but it hasn’t been available to watch face developers. Last month, Google updated the Wearable Support Library (version 2.7.0) to let developers request a hardware-accelerated canvas. Along with this, there’s more UI performance data by enabling Debug GPU profiling under Settings > Developer options.
There are a couple of catches that come with this change. First of all, Google says “hardware acceleration can greatly lower the battery life of a device.” This is especially the case if the watch face has “long-running animations,” which Google advises against implementing. The second catch is that hardware acceleration for watch faces is only available for Wear OS devices on Android 9 Pie or later.
Like many features, it’s up to developers to implement this in their Wear OS watch faces. Hopefully, many do and we’ll see smoother watch faces. The addition of this feature won’t be a saving grace for Google’s smartwatch OS, but it’s a small step in the right direction.