Earlier this week, Google announced the next version of its mobile operating system: Android 5.0 Lollipop. The new software development kit (SDK) should be released sometime later today (October 17th), and ROMs for the Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 7, Nexus 10, and Google Play edition devices should start to roll out “in the coming weeks”. What about Android Wear? Why weren’t wearables powered by Android mentioned, and what will Android Lollipop do for smartwatches?
Watch Face API
Searching the Play Store for watch faces for Android Wear will bring up dozens of results. Some look great, others, not so much. Most of them have quirks and don’t really feel at home on the watches. That’s all because Google hasn’t released an API for watch face development yet. In fact, Google asked developers to hold off on making watch faces until the API is ready. That may have stopped some, but not everyone.
If it were just a watch face, developing apps to accomplish this relatively simple task wouldn’t be that difficult. However, the app must interact with notification cards, other apps on the watch, and the host device (your smartphone or tablet).
When Android Lollipop is released for smartwatches, things should get really interesting really quickly!
For Lollipop, among other improvements, we’ll see Project Volta. On smartphones and tablets, Project Volta promises to bring a stock Power Saver mode to Android, a Battery Historian to help you see what’s eating your battery, and a Job Scheduler API to help the device sleep for longer periods of time with better scheduling of background tasks.
We’ll circle back to power in a moment.
When one thinks about smartwatches, audio processing isn’t usually high on the list. However, since the primary way to input data on Android Wear is through voice commands, improved audio processing can mean the difference between a successfully sent text message, and a heap of frustration.
According to Google’s Glenn Kasten, the re-written audio APIs in Android Lollipop are designed to minimize both input and output latency, and while the team hasn’t quite hit the 10 millisecond mark it’s been shooting for, the improvements should make a large enough difference to make things like real-time voice effects or karaoke apps possible. Kasten was referring to karaoke on your smartphone or tablet, not your watch, but wearables will benefit just as much from improved audio processing as will their larger counterparts.
Google has been working on improving battery consumption (and using it more wisely) in Android Lollipop.
The next big consumer electronics market to conquer is in countries that haven’t yet widely adopted smartphones. To do this, hardware prices must come down, but that usually means devices must be built to lower specifications, resulting in a slow and less than enjoyable experience. Google hopes a new project, dubbed Android One, could help get a foot in the door. Android Lollipop will likely be the operating system that could change that.
Back when I was running the Android L Developer Preview on my Nexus 5, my battery life was significantly better than using the latest build of Android KitKat – on most days. There were times when my battery didn’t make it much past lunch, but on the whole, life with the Android L Developer Preview meant longer run-times and fewer trips to the charger.
Apply these power-saving advancements to smartwatches and I suspect we’ll finally see what we all hoped for when Android Wear was announced: watches that can go for days between charges.
The hardware was there, but the operating system seemed rushed and not quite ready for primetime. A few updates have been released since then that have improved the overall experience, but we’re still not at what I’d call a “finished product”.
I suspected this was because Android Wear was originally supposed to be powered by Android Lollipop. I never found any proof of this, but I hold to that suspicion. I felt like Google would probably release Android Wear in the October/November window alongside the new Nexus smartphone and tablet. History will show that I was wrong.
After the wearables hit the market, I again suspected that the operating system running them was for the interim, that Google actually intended for Lollipop to be the OS powering them. I still hold to that suspicion, but nothing was mentioned of an upgrade to Lollipop during or after Google’s recent announcement. Wearables weren’t mentioned – at all – and that has me a little bit worried.