A big update to Google's Android Wear will make fitness tracking easier

Android Watches
Android Watches displayed on screen at Google I/O on May 18, 2016 Credit: Google/IDGNS

Fitness apps will start automatically, and users can respond to messages with machine learning-based replies

Android Wear, Google’s operating system for smartwatches, is getting its biggest update yet with an upcoming 2.0 release that brings improved features for messaging and fitness.

Among the improvements, Android Wear 2.0 will detect when you're starting to exercise and automatically fire up an app such as Strava. That means you can start jogging or cycling and not worry about remembering to turning on the app.

Google is also taking aim at how the Apple Watch displays information from applications, by allowing developers to display information from any app when users glance at their device.

That’s important for helping people to quickly see data from apps they use frequently.

People who want to converse with friends from their wrists will also get new features, including a redesigned keyboard, support for handwriting recognition, and smart replies that offer machine learning-driven responses based on the context of a conversation.

The updates, shown at Google I/O Wednesday, could help make Android Wear more appealing to users who've so far have stayed out of the smartwatch world. At a time when smartwatches are still a niche item, that could be useful for Google.

With Android Wear 2.0, developers can also create standalone apps that directly access the cloud when an Internet connection is available. Watches can connect to the internet using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular data -- which could encourage people to buy watches that support cellular connections.

A direct Internet connection also means people on a run or a bike ride without their phone will have an easier time sending messages and using other functions.

Developers can start using the Android Wear 2.0 beta now, and Google will launch a consumer release of the update later this year.

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