For Google, the smartwatch journey from early-adopting geeks to mainstream customers has it pursuing an easier and more fluid user experience. Its latest update, revealed on Wednesday, aims to advance the cause with a new spate of widgets called Tiles.
As “snackable” bits of content, Tiles keep select information in easy reach. To conjure info, like weather forecast or appointments, the user merely swipes left on the watch face.
Before this update, Google Fit was the lone occupant of the prized left-swipe location. It hasn’t gone away, but now joins a lineup that includes weather, calendar items, heart rate info, headlines and other tidbits.
Wear OS product manager Frank Deschenes described the interaction in a blog post: “With a swipe left, you’ll be greeted by these Tiles and can check your progress toward your fitness goals or start a workout, know where you need to be next, plan ahead with the latest forecast, check your heart rate, follow the latest breaking headlines and set a timer.”
Users can sort the Tiles in whatever order they please by tapping and holding one to move its position, or firing up the Wear OS app on a paired smartphone.
As for which ones will become available, the answer partly depends on the particulars of each device. If a watch doesn’t have the hardware to track heart rate, for instance, the owner can’t use that particular widget.
Partners like Fossil Group have unveiled newer Wear OS-driven smartwatches across multiple brands, so late-model wearables should have the most selection of Tiles, once they support the software update. According to a Fossil Group spokeswoman, the company expects all brands like SKAGEN, Misfit, Michael Kors, Diesel, Kate Spade, and its namesake Fossil to roll out the update within this month. Google also promises to develop and release more Tiles as time goes on.
Whether they will land on a Pixel smartwatch someday remains to be seen. Some industry observers wonder whether Google will develop its own Pixel-branded wearable, but the search giant hasn’t yet bowed to pressure to launch one.
Right now, its effort to move Wear OS beyond the niche “geek” audience hinges on its relationships with fashion brands like Fossil and Fossil Group’s bevy of brand partners, which include Kate Spade, Michael Kors and others. Google often takes feedback on what their users want, even letting it inform software features. Releasing a competing device could throw a money wrench into those relationships.
Then again, Google-owned gadgets have always acted as reference devices. Having one might shed light on where Google and its partners will take Wear OS next in the post-Tile era, and how it will fare against other devices and other wearables platforms, such as Apple’s Watch OS and Samsung’s Tizen.
What Tiles does suggest is that Google is continuing to rethink some of the fundamentals of how users engage with their Wear OS devices. Previously, the company redesigned Google Fit, and the changes likely won’t end with Tiles. Whatever else might be on tap, it may move into the spotlight next week at Google’s developer conference.