Bringing Google Now to your wrist: This is the Android Wear interface

An interface that scales Google Now down to something usable on your wrist, with endless possibilities driven by developers.

Google has officially unveiled Android Wear, an operating system specifically tailored to wearable devices, and with that comes some new usability and interface challenges. Working with small wristwatch-sized devices and sub-2-inch screens, you quickly run out of room for interfaces and information. Alongside the launch of the new platform, Google has given developers an early look at design guidelines for putting Android Wear on your wrist.

While the documentation is far from complete at this stage, we're getting a pretty good look into what the interface will look like for Android Wear-powered devices like the LG G Watch and Moto 360. From the looks of it, you'll be able to accomplish quite a bit more than you'd expect on your watch, and the design implementations seem both intuitive and beautiful.

The context stream and cue card

Context Stream and Cue Card

The main paradigm for interacting with Android Wear devices is called the "context stream" — a vertical list of cards showing information as it becomes available. Very familiar to anyone who has used Google Now on a phone or tablet, the context stream will collect all notifications sent to the watch in a scrollable card view. As we'll cover in more detail below, individual cards can display simple information on the main screen, with further information and actions that can be shown by swiping the card to the left.

For information that you need but isn't automatically offered to you, the "cue card" will help you find it. At the top of the Android Wear interface, a simple "g" icon — again, just like Google Now — can be tapped or summoned by saying "Ok Google" to then bring up actions that can be done explicitly. You can then scroll through available actions or speak your intended action, with options such as "take a note," "send a message," "navigate to" and other phrases you're used to if you've used voice controls with Google Now. Just like Google Glass, developers will be able to plug into this voice control interface to have their apps summoned when you make the right voice prompt.

Cards and notifications

Card Stream

On the surface, the best way to understand Android Wear notifications is to think of them as an alternate display of the notifications that arrive on the phone your watch is connected to, organized in the now-standard "card" style and placed in the stream. As illustrated by the pictures above, when a notification comes in to the connected phone, it is also pushed to the connected wearable by default and displayed in a new card — no additional developer interaction is required to make notifications show on the watch.

Notifications on your watch are meant to be simple and follow a general philosophy of "less is more." Only the most important notifications — messages from friends or time-based calendar reminders, for example — will chime or vibrate on your wrist, with all other cards being silently added for when you glance at your watch on your own terms. Cards make use of images behind the card text to give context to the notification, and also include a small app icon to denote which app sent the notification to your watch.

Notification Pages and Action Buttons

Android Wear

If developers want to take things to the next level, they can change their apps to offer a better experience on the watch. If a notification needs to contain more text, developers can use "Big View" to send more information by default. Additional information can be added to a new "page" that is found by swiping the card to the left — additional pages could show route information for a navigation card, or a three-day forecast for a weather card, for example.

An app can also add "action buttons," which are button overlays on top of the current screen to take basic actions on the content — an email, for example, would have Archive and Reply buttons. Action buttons can be made to take action all on the wearable or to open an app on the attached phone, and are displayed with a swipe to the left on the watch — they will always be to the right of all content, even if there are multiple pages of text.

Notification stacks

Notification Stacks

If a single app often has more than one notification being sent to the user at the same time, these notifications can be combined into "stacks," just like notifications on your phone combine into one item in the notification shade. Stacks are displayed with simple wording indicating "5 new messages" or "18 new emails," are expandable by the user to show individual notifications and are ordered with the most recent notification on the top by default. Developers can also define a custom order if they see fit.

Voice replies

Voice Replies

If a notification would normally prompt a response by text on a phone, it can now prompt the user to respond via voice on their watch instead. Primarily to be used by messaging apps, Voice replies can be either a set of simple canned responses — such as "yes," "no," or "message you soon" — that the user dictates and chooses, or can be full-on voice input like you'd see when hitting the microphone button on your Android device keyboard today. Developers can have voice replies available via a "Reply" action button on a message card, either as the first option or a deeper, secondary option.

And this is just the beginning

Android Wear preview

Google has released an "SDK preview" and a companion application for your Android phone today as well. Things are still early, and the SDK bits and baubles are a little buggy, but using the companion app and the Android Wear system image gives developers a hands-on look at just how it all acts. We've been playing with it all day, and we like the direction Google is taking here. All the heavy lifting is done on your phone, and only the things you need to see and know at a glance make their way to your wrist where you can act upon them.

If you want to give it a spin yourself, head to the Android Wear developer pages and get started.

As the Android Wear SDK gets into more developers' hands and actual devices start to get closer to market, we'll have a better idea of how these new Android Wear-powered watches will be able to interact with our favorite apps and devices. The frameworks outlined here seem promising, powerful and appropriately simple, and we can't wait to give them a try for ourselves.

For even more information, you can watch these Android Dev Bytes videos from Google.

Source: Android Developers; (2); (3); (4)

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • I want my watch NAO! :) Notifications seriously look great.
  • Kevin, will this work with the newer blackberry devices, or have you fully migrated to team Android. Posted via Android Central best phone available: moto x
  • It probably won't work -
  • Pretty much zero chance that Android Wear will be compatible with BB10.
  • Honestly, who cares? Blackberry just needs to die already.
  • I want my watch NAO! :)
    Oops someone has already said that. Loving the 'Motorola 360' form factor. Together, I know people, we can finally get watches that we would want to wear, be proud to wear and have 'REAL' functionality. I know that the future is almost here.
  • This is unnecessary... Posted via the Android Central App on my Nexus 5
  • Who are you to decide? Posted via Android Central App using an LG G2.
  • Just some nobody? It's a statement and an opinion. No need to get your panties in a bunch. Posted via Android Central App
  • Eliminates the need to pull my smartphone out of my pocket to check the notification I just received. Nevertheless, for me and many others, a wristwatch is also jewelry where the functionality, design, beauty, style, fit and finish defines you to a certain extent. Same could be said for the HTC One.
  • The market will decide that.
  • Smartphones were considered unnecessary at first by most people. ಠ益ಠ
  • Which would you rather while walking or riding a bike, directions from your phone or your wristwatch? One of the many applications...
  • My phone, I've got a bike mount, I don't want to be looking at a tiny display on my wrist while cycling. But audio directions through my headphones are usually sufficient and don't require me to take my eyes off the road. Posted via Android Central App
  • This isn't a dictatorship... If you don't want one don't buy one. The persons who finds it useful will, simple.
  • The market dictates what is necessary and what not. Welcome to the capitalism! Posted via Android Central App
  • +10000000000
  • This is amazing, and is the next step after smartphones.
  • Mmm sushi posted from the AC Slater app
  • You win one internet.
  • So... Where does Rule 34 come into play? Posted via Android Central App
  • Your comment made me LOL all over myself. N3 via AC App
  • Sounds messy
  • I'm on the fence. Google Now is my all time favorite app, but Im not sure if it'll be useful on my wrist. But I don't think Android Wear was designed with me in mind, to begin with, my phone is constantly in my hand. Screen pretty much stays on all day. Posted via my oldie but goodie Nexii 4 using the Android Central App
  • That's the point. If your the kind of person that is going to be on their phone all day ( reading books, surfing the web, playing games) it really doesn't apply to you. But to most, the phone is a communication and notification device, and bringing notifications to the wrist is a huge plus, both protecting the phone battery (screen drains battery faster than bluetooth) and reducing the time for the user to reach that notification. The ability to access google now is just a plus.
    If you're sitting down with your phone next to you or in your hand, you might as well have the watch off. But If you're out and about, with your phone pocketed, the watch becomes a useful companion device.
  • I'm going to be the first person in history to read the bible from front to back on android wear! When I'm done, apple won't exist and android will be embedded in the human brain, the frontal lobe will be Google now, and the cerebral cortex will run the virtual machine, your actual retina will be Google glass, and you can debug and flash custom Roms/alter egos/personality traits via USB light speed 55 anal adapter, you will have two USB sound speed 54 ports via penile cavity and belly button. Posted via Nexus 7 Razor Rooted (nexogen)
  • Aggressive. I like it. Posted from my TARDIS!
  • Hahaha. Posted via the Android Central App on my Nexus 5
  • I think the true question here is whether Phil enjoys being a meat Popsicle.
  • Fifth Element!
  • This interface looks really nice, yet simple for quick glancing. Posted via AC App on HTC One
  • I would go as far as saying the interface is more attractive than glass'. Of course, the two are very different form factors, and putting this interface on glass would be questionable
  • I am impressed by the preliminary photos & videos. I have not had one ounce of interest in other smartwatches (I have not worn a watch in a dozen years), but this piques my interest.
  • I despise John Kaplan and his Umi Masu.
  • After using the Galaxy gear I have to say this is my next buy, I was going for a gear neo but this just seems to be everything I want. let's hope they are priced well, I only paid $155 for this gear Posted via Android Central App
  • I hope it treats the phone's battery a little better than the Gear does. I have the Gear and the Pebble and for kicks went back to my Pebble today. The battery savings is ridiculous compared to the Gear. I would usually be at about 40% right now on my S4 with the Gear connected. I'm at 72% with the Pebble connected. The 360 looks pretty great.
  • Did anybody else notice that he said it was for Android 4.3 and above. Posted via Nexus 7
  • Right, because 4.3 included the notification listener api that is required. FRAGMENTATION!!! jk via N7
  • Also, I'm sure it requires Bluetooth 4.0 (Android 4.3+)
  • This is the first smart watch I can say looks good. Don't let me get started with Samsung's interface! Posted via Android Central App
  • For Google - being the window through which you see and interact with the world IS the point. NOW is central to this aim, it even outranks Android OS in future planning, they are banking on it. Hardware just frames the window, so very light wearable tech fits their aim well. They want other people designing and making it; they never wanted to have to be Apple. Let others do all that. Until now Google seemed indecisive. Today is the start of a big push. It's very exciting.
    Awesome AC.
  • This is sounding like a very positive move and it's very exciting indeed :-) Sent From the one the only the magnificent Note 3.
  • Where exactly does the Smartwatch fit in with the smartphone? Will it make the smartphone a less appealing product, or will it just be a companion to the smartphone? the big print giveth, the small print taketh
  • A companion. Obviously it won't replace the smartphone. Even if it does, it will most likely take a long time.
  • Its a little weird, although fine, that all you can do is enhance your app's notifications. I wonder if you'll be able to write watch-only apps... Posted via Android Central App
  • And what if you don't like or don't use Google Now? Does that mean Google Wear becomes useless? Or can it handle lots of other things- like calls, texts, notifications, music, apps, etc, with Google Now turned off??
  • I'm pretty sure if you don't like Google Now then there's something called the "Pebble" or similar devices out there for you. As a matter fact, this shouldn't even appeal to you enough to prompt you to ask that question. I understand the question but from the looks of it, it revolves around Google Now and Google+. But if you clearly don't like the 2 why get it if you won't use half the functionality that's it's integrated with? Posted via Android Central App
  • Because all the new Android smartwatches will likely use Google Wear, so it is not like we are going to have much choice. And there are TONS of things that can be done without using Now or +. Choice is good. Not interested in the Pebble- it is too ugly and limited for my taste.
  • I know that. Google Now wasn't around forever. But why would you be interested in something that clearly doesn't interest you when it's whole interface functionality is based off Google Now? I mean if you don't want the voice controls, the cards, the live updates, the voice recognition, then what DO you want that others don't have that don't use Google Now? Or do you just want a customized Google device for you and you only? Posted via Android Central App
  • Google search- has nothing to do with Now or +. I can do both with them off.
    Voice controls- has nothing to do with Now or +. I can do both with them off.
    Voice recognition is not different than voice controls. And I think cards are the same as live updates. So the only thing I wouldn't do/want are Now/+ cards. That leaves plenty on the table... Like the hundreds of things I can currently do on my Android phone now with Now/+ turned off. How about notifications, mapping, photo viewing, weather, stopwatch, step counter, compass, texting, answering the phone, checking traffic (predefined), remote control, so many things that do not require either Now or +. What I want is the ability to choose the best watch based on style, controls, screen res/size/shape/color/type, battery life, charging options, crystal, input/output, speed, etc. Why should someone who doesn't want Now/+ be forced into a market with a few hardware options that will be dwindling? Case in point- I find the Moto watch very interesting for many reasons, NOT because it is running Google Wear, but because of everything else I mentioned. Everyone wants a customized device- that is the whole reason we want Android in the first place- we can choose the menus, the launcher, the apps, the settings, etc. There is nothing wrong with that.... and there is a whole world of options for smart watches that are not just notifications.
  • I'm trying to understand you. I'm really trying. But I don't get it. To a point where I wasn't even going to entertain this with a response but it's nagging at me. You want things opposite of what they showcased as prime features? That's what you want. You can't say it any other way. Your main question is "If I don't like this... Can I do this?" which makes sense in a way but that still doesn't answer why would you be interested in something that it's main highlights are something you're not interested in? Take away everything you don't want and guess what you have? A Pebble.
    You said something about Android and having what you want. You want the brand of Android but you want it to push notifications from your phone to your wrist... That's it. That's all you want. Basically you want a Corvette (the style, speed, reliability, and value) but you want the gas mileage of a hybrid, a 4 cylinder engine because that's how you roll but you want the same power as a V8, and want the room of a SUV.
    But you still want the Corvette because it's a Corvette and you need choice. You don't even want your speedometer to even show any number above 85MPH... Seriously, who's going to go that fast?! See what I did there? But to each their own. I'll just agree to disagree. You make excellent points, I'm just playing devil's advocate here.
  • It's just that you are focusing on the software. Think of the hardware. I want to choose the hardware that I like and have it ACT more like a Pebble (actually, I want more, but it is close). My original fear is that Google will be "Now"'ing their new spec to the point that the device is a mostly a brick without using Now... leaving people like me (and there are actually more than you might think) stuck with a very, very limited number of devices left- most of which we might not like. And those will phase out, leaving nothing left.
  • if you dont have gn running on your phone... how would it push notifications to you? just dont ever say yes im in when it is installed on the phone. this thing is just a notification device. nothing more.
  • You'll be getting Google Now cards, but as we cover in the article the Android Wear devices also simply pull in every single notification you get on your phone by default as well.
  • So it's more of a "notification" hub in some respects? Posted via Android Central App
  • I think the interface is beautiful.
  • Yeah...360° of awesomeness! N3 via AC App
  • ePicness ... ( 0ppo F5) ...
  • Cool! Can't wait
  • I'd love one Posted via Android Central App
  • I am not trying to be dense....but someone please help me understand why I need a smart watch...when presumably I have my phone in my pocket 99% of the time. I am excited about the possibilty, but I am just trying to figure out what I am missing......
  • The 'tech' guys and girls will pick this up in a heartbeat. I'm interested, but can't see how it's going to improve my life that much that I'll buy one. It's not going be just your phone you'll be upgrading every year, but now it'll be your watch.
  • Because wasting battery just to look at notifications is an unnecessary drain on your smartphone resources when you could be conserving battery life for when you actually want to perform a highly interactive task. Plus, there is intrinsic value of at-a-glance access to timely information that you just don't get from pulling your phone out of your pocket. Posted via Android Central App
  • I don't waste battery...I have a Moto X. :-) So I save battery...but spend $300 on a watch....that can't really do anything my phone can't already do.
  • +1 It's a toy for people to play with. A want more than a need...
  • The at-a-glance info is key... Because I take my phone out when I sit down to dinner at a restaurant (kids calling), when I get into the car, etc.. So if it ties with my handset, that's excellent. I think Google has the use cases down, and I'm sure we'll all learn a ton more as these things come into the market and we all start trying to make then do all these things we want. Posted via Android Central App
  • If you're bike riding, your kid could message you. Phone call from a spouse, or if you just like to know who's contacting you. It's easier to glance at a watch then pull out my phone. Especially if it works with myfitnesspal or another fitness app.Thats one of my reasons.
  • For being such a potentially MAJOR annoucement you would think google would have made a little bigger presentation. But the timing is perfect for the release of the NExus watch at the Developers conference!
  • Annnnnnnnd Google wins, hands down, no contest. Google now is perfect for a smart watch, and I'm not explaining why because its just too obvious... Is apple tossing siri on theirs? If so... That will legit be a match I'd like to see... Although siri is a hoe, and you can't trust a hoe now-a-days... *hoe= gardening tool Posted via Nexus 7 Razor Rooted (nexogen)
  • Geekalogy covered a similar story as well and we thought users would want to read things from another angle, to have a better understanding of this new platform. Not spamming, folks, just sharing. Cheers!
  • Apple must of been like "back to the drawing board, lets copy this like everything else we steal from Android" LOL
  • Me Posted via Android Central App
  • Me Posted via Android Central App
  • My number 3257634710 Posted via Android Central App
  • Can you make calls with the 2 watches? Don't think they showed calls in the videos... Posted via Android Central App