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Google has made Wear OS trustworthy for the people who matter

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You have to give Wear OS proponents some credit: they’ve survived on Google’s start-and-stop investment models in the platform for nearly a decade with half-baked native apps and features left out longer than anyone cares to admit. But if this has been the case for users, think of all the third-party developers have had to suffer to serve them. Today, as Pixel Watch and Jetpack Compose for Wear OS need to inject relevance back into the OS, we sit down with a developer who’s been working with the platform since the beginning and find out what’s changed in development of the Wear OS app after all that. years.

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Greg Viczian, known in most places as DYNA Logix, was intimately involved with what was known as Android Wear from its inception, creating watch faces and other applets, his most famous being the dual-mode and highly customizable Bubble Clouds launcher – an app that has garnered over 1 million installs.

We’ve edited Viczian’s answers to our interview questions for readability.

The era of Android Wear

The early years of Android Wear were exciting, but incredibly frustrating for developers who had to fend for themselves.

“Early versions of Android Wear (1.x) had a much more limited SDK, sparse documentation, and little information on developer forums,” Viczian said.

However, as a developer who wanted to move downstairs, Viczian had to take matters into his own hands. Bubble Clouds offered users one of the greatest features and customizations a Wear app package could offer in v1 years. A community eventually grew around Android Wear and it was able to take advantage of some in-house libraries to make further improvements. It has also spent a lot of time on complaints from its power user audience, especially about battery and memory consumption. Both assets have a premium in a small form factor, but they’re also in high demand considering what people use a watch for: namely, to check the time.


But the novelty and mass curiosity about the platform quickly wore off and by the time Google arrived with Android Wear 2.0 in 2017, there was some serious catching up to do.

“Google added watch-specific libraries for watch face complications, added billing and network-related libraries, and we received theme and material design guidelines.”

But the same perceptual aura of unease set in soon after. When Google revamped Android Wear to Wear OS and introduced its Tiles UI in 2019, developers immediately created their own APIs and circulated them long before the company bothered to release an official one in 2021. Even with an official release, Viczian says, the constructor-based implementation was “awful.”

Change is happening

This year, Google seemed to be taking the development turn for portable devices. This convinced Samsung to drop Tizen and help out with Wear OS 3.0 and put some arm grease on to make things better for app and watch makers.

It’s exciting to see renewed interest in Wear OS from Google: updated APIs, guidelines and tools. I was also very happy with Samsung’s retirement to Wear OS.

The Android Studio experience has been vastly improved with the ability to pair a phone to an emulated Wear device as well as debugging over Wi-Fi. Even the Tiles API has been rebuilt into a more acceptable form. The Health Services API is of particular interest to Viczian. He plans to use it to improve the power efficiency of his inactivity reminder app, Stand-up Alert.

The developer is also thrilled that Jetpack Compose is made specifically for Wear OS. But he’s not rushing to convert his existing projects, especially given the mountain of old code that Bubble Clouds runs on.

I started working on this app in 2014: some of the main parts of the app are 7-8 years old! There was no Kotlin, not even Material Design at that time. A lot has changed since the start of this project and it’s getting hard to make everything work and stay familiar to long-time users (some of my favorite members of the user community have been here since the very beginning) and at the same time keeping the app appealing to the new Galaxy Watch crowd, not to mention getting it ready for the Pixel Watch.

Bubble Clouds was released when Android was still heavily involved in Java’s class inheritance model. It took a while for the Kotlin language of JetBrains and its complementary toolkit Jetpack Compose to be fully embraced by Google – it was finally the case when the company announced that Kotlin would be its Android language of choice in 2019 and applying it to existing Bubble Clouds functions takes a lot of effort. Add to that having to find replacements for deprecated APIs and you can probably imagine a situation akin to a lit birthday cake with gag candles that can’t be blown out.

It always seems redundant to rewrite part of an application due to API changes. Ain’t broke, why fix it? Over the years I had to update how background services work and how rotary input is handled. I have redesigned the UI several times and another UI redesign is planned. Tile functionality is still using Stringmon’s unofficial API and converting it to official API is still ahead of me. I’m still using the deprecated ComplicationData library, which at this point seems to be more reliable than the new recommended API, but eventually I’ll have to change.

What the future holds

Still, there are good reasons for Viczian’s wait-and-see approach. He was testing some Compose libraries for his Fat Finger Scribble Calculator app and found that they increased the size of his app set by over 40%, which is less than ideal when native storage is stuck at 4GB. on almost all Wear OS watches.

“What we gain by shortening development work,” Viczian told me, “could negatively impact application quality when it comes to key development priorities.”

And that development can be wasted when OEM-level support fails. Viczian cited numerous issues developing with the Galaxy Watch4, including the loss of a number of complication-related features for third-party apps as well as disabling the ability to hide persistent notifications – particularly important for Bubble Clouds because it can display overlays on top of other apps and therefore would need a persistent notification. It even had to build burn prevention into its always-on watch face since the Watch4 didn’t include such a feature.

But with Google’s renewed attitude towards Wear OS and a proprietary device all but guaranteed to get the attention and support it deserves, it looks like the platform might be ready to rejuvenate the trust of its existing developer base. , but welcome to a crop of new ones in the fold. And with 8 years of Stack Overflow threads and example GitHub repositories strewn across the internet, the hope is that it will be more fun and easier for beginners to set up apps than it has ever been. for the Viczian and other Wear veterans. .


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