Things are heating up for Android Wear lately. Earlier this week, a new version of the Android Wear companion app began rolling out to make preparations for the next OS update. There's now an update to the Google app in the Beta channel which follows up with some interesting changes of its own: a new Wear-specific app that places the Google Now stream into a distinct card on watches. A teardown also shows some interesting new experiments for continuous queries and text-to-speech. There's even a small tweak for the Google Now Launcher.
The Google Now Card
Views of the new Google Now card and the first page to the right.
After installing the latest version of the Google App, swipe down to the bottom of your stream on an Android Wear watch and you'll see the brand new Google Now card. It's a compilation of the most pertinent items on your current Now stream, minus the lowest priority items like recommended television shows and news articles.
The Now card offers two separate ways to enter the Google app on Wear: a button at the bottom of the main card and a button on the first page to the right. Inside you'll find the same informational items shown on the card, but they can be tapped to open a full page of details. The screenshots below show a recently shipped package, a friend's birthday notification, and my weather forecast. It's also worth noting that the pull-to-refresh gesture has survived the trip to Wear, too.
Screenshots from inside the Google app for Wear. Top right: pull-to-refresh.
As it turns out, the side effect of this change is that the dedicated weather card has been absorbed with the other notifications at the bottom of the stack. This might not be such a bad thing since many people complained that it popped up too frequently and was often in the way. If you find that you're missing constant temperature display, this might be a good time to check out one of a dozen other weather apps on the Play Store that also offer Wear support, or just grab a watch face that features current temperature and conditions.
The overall change also seems odd since it effectively deprioritizes items in the Google Now stream in favor of notifications and events from other apps. It's possible this is in preparation for Android Wear going to China, which necessitates a separate Wear companion app, or it might even be a simple separation of responsibilities to make development and distribution of updates a little cleaner. We'll probably get a better idea of what's happening when the next Wear OS update comes out.
Left: old version. Right: new version.
If you've got an eagle-eye for the most subtle of changes, you might notice some minor visual tweaks in the Google Now Launcher. There have been a couple of adjustments to graphic resources and behavior. For example, the above screenshots that show an expanded folder. The latest version shrinks the padding just a bit to allow the background to line up with the search bar above it, which also conveniently covers up widgets and icons that would land just beyond the border of the old background position.
Continuous Queries And Text-To-Speech For Wear
Most of this update seems dedicated to bringing the Google Now card to Wear, but it looks like a couple of new features are being tested on Wear, as well. The Google app v5.4 teardown gave us a hint that there was a dedicated Wear app on the way, but since the micro-apk wasn't available, there was nothing to examine for features. Now there is, and it has quite a bit in common with the regular app for phones and tablets, so much so that it looks like the code was probably copied and a few things were cleaned out to shave off some of the size. However, there are a few brand new strings that are mighty interesting, assuming they are actually meant for wearables.
It looks like Google is experimenting with a more fluid communication experience on Wear. Some new preferences have been added that enable modes for something called Magic Mic and Eyes-free TTS.
<string name="prefTitle_enable_magic_mic">Magic Mic (go/magic-mic)</string>
<string name="pref_summary_enable_magic_mic">Enable continous queries with Magic Mic. See go/gsa-magic-mic</string>
<string name="prefDialogTitle_magic_mic">Change Magic Mic mode:</string>
<string name="prefSummary_magic_mic_silent_with_audio_history">Silent with Audio History</string>
<string name="prefTitle_verbose_tts">Eyes-free TTS (go/kitt)</string>
<string name="prefSummaryOn_verbose_tts">Enabled: all voice searches are treated as eyes-free</string>
<string name="pref_title_experimental_category">(Internal Only) Experimental Settings</string>
Magic Mic, not to be confused with Channing Tatum's titular character, is a mode that allows for continuous queries on Wear. It's not specifically explained by the text, but I'm going to guess that this allows us to start a command with "Ok, Google" and continue to issue new queries or commands without repeating the hotword each time. This doesn't seem to be operational yet, but it appears to be enabled by default for testers.
Eyes-free TTS is fairly obvious. If you've used voice commands with the Google app or Android Auto before now, you should already know what this is. Codenamed KITT for the iconic talking car, this is a mode that will speak back to the user when it makes sense to give an audible response. There's little point to explaining this further, but it does bring up one fairly obvious point: it probably only works with Wear devices that have speakers. It's always possible this mode will launch audible responses on a paired phone, but that might be awkward. It's not that we didn't all know speakers were the new major feature in this next generation of Wear devices, but this clearly points to one of the features Google has in mind once it has speakers available.
The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.