When you buy an Apple product you buy into the ecosystem more than with any other company, but that doesn't mean you're stuck with only what they offer. If you're a lover of wearables you'd be remiss to overlook Android Wear, even if you've chosen iOS as your primary mobile platform.
Is Android Wear for You and Your iPhone?
I wanted to love the Apple Watch. While wearables never seemed incredibly useful to me, the idea of a smart device on my wrist seemed incredibly cool. But the Apple Watch felt like a major disappointment. I never liked the look of it. Square watches never jived with my personal aesthetics. Beyond that, the Apple Watch just felt like a dumbed-down phone with a tiny screen. I'm not sure what sort of product Apple thought they were making.
While Google's Android Wear is no perfect alternative, the platform understands its limitations and focuses on what it can achieve despite them. Even on an iPhone, Android Wear offers a lot of great functionality. I even found it kept a more reliable connection with my phone than my Apple Watch. That said, the two platforms are very different. Android Wear focuses on cards and actions, while the Apple Watch focuses on apps. I think the app paradigm makes great sense on a phone but works poorly on a watch. Google's actionable cards make a lot more sense, and Google Now provides a ton of information at a moment's notice through simple voice commands. That said, if you want to use your watch as a secondary screen for your phone you shouldn't choose Android Wear. If you want a quick information screen with simple actions and access to quick answers on your wrist in a fashionable package, you should.
Pick a Watch and Set It Up
You don't really need a step-by-step explanation of how to set up an Android Wear watch with an iPhone because the watch will take you through the process. Instead, I'll give you the basic overview and how to get around some of the quirks.
First things first, you need to buy an Android Wear smartwatch that actually works with an iPhone. I went with the LG Watch Urbane because I got it on sale. If money hadn't entered the equation, I might've chosen the Moto 360 v2 for its smaller profile. Those are my two favourites that work with iOS, but you have others to choose from as well:
- LG Watch Urbane
- Moto 360 (v2)
- Moto 360 for Women
- Moto 360 Sport
- Huawei Watch
- Asus ZenWatch 2
- Fossil Q Founder
- TAG Heuer Connected
As time goes on we'll surely see more iOS-compatible options, but as of the time of this writing these are the ones to choose from. For reference, here are some popular models that DO NOT work (so DO NOT buy them:)
- LG G Watch
- Samsung Gear Live
- Moto 360 (v1)
- LG G Watch R
- Sony Smartwatch 3
- Asus ZenWatch (1)
Once you pick out your watch, setup goes by pretty quickly. Here's the gist:
- Charge your new watch, or at least stick it in the charger during setup.
- Download the Android Wear app for your iPhone and open it.
- Tap the three vertical dots in the upper righthand corner and then tap "Pair with a new wearable".
- Check your watch for a pairing code, then tap "Pair" in the Android Wear app. Wait a minute or two for the confirmation message.
After you do that, you'll get to set a few things up. The phone and watch will walk you through this process and you should pay close attention. If you don't go through the setup process successfully it won't go away, so just deal with some of the annoying teaching moments Google imposes on you. It may help in the long run anyway.
When choosing your notification settings, you'll want to consider a few things:
- Google apps work best and offer more features, so you should use them as much as you can. For example, all apps can display notifications but almost every non-Google app cannot provide actionable notifications. So if you use the Gmail app on your iPhone you can archive a message straight from your watch. If you use another email app, you can't. There's a workaround, but we'll talk about that later. For now, just know that if you opt to use Google Apps -- particularly Gmail and Google Calendar -- your watch can do more.
- Card previews are helpful but intrusive, so you might want to turn them off. By default, previews are on and you can disable them in the settings either on your watch or through the Android Wear app. Basically, card previews sit at the bottom of your watch waiting for you to interact with them and cover up part of your watch face. Since the watch at least vibrates to notify you when something comes in and you can quickly swipe up to access your notification feed, I see no reason to clutter things up with previews. You may disagree. Either way, you should know that you can choose to turn previews off if you find them more annoying than helpful.
- Definitely enable Google Now or you'll miss out on the majority of benefits with Android Wear on iOS. Google Now provides a ton of information based on what Google knows about you. It also helps provide answers in better context when you say "Hey Google" and ask your watch a question. If you miss enabling this during the setup process, you can always jump into the watch settings or the Android Wear app to turn it on.
With all of that out of the way, you're pretty much set up and ready to go. You don't have to organise anything, but rather just wait until you get some notifications and do what you wish with them. If you have a request, say "Hey Google" and give it to your wrist. (Note: some watches require you to tap the screen to wake them up before they will listen.) While you can scroll around to check weather and other information as well, these are the two ways you'll interact with your Android Wear device the most. Keep that in mind as we move along and learn about how to get the most out of your watch.
Get to Know the Menus
Your Android Wear device hides its features and settings behind three different corners of the screen. Let's take a look at how to access each of them and what you can do once you get there.
If you swipe downward from the top of the watch, you can access a few settings quickly. These will vary depending on the watch, and you can pick and choose some of what shows up, but you'll most likely be greeted with volume settings. I keep my watch on mute all the time so it only vibrates, but you can set whatever you want there. Swiping from right to left will reveal more options. The only other one worth highlighting, in my opinion, is Theatre Mode. When you go to a movie, play, presentation or anything else that your watch could disturb, just turn Theatre Mode on and the watch will turn its screen, sounds and vibration functions off until you reactivate them. Finally, swiping all the way to the end of the Quick Settings allows you to open up the full settings in case you didn't find what you were looking for.
Swipe the watch face from right to left to bring up an app menu. While I don't really think of Android Wear as an app-based platform -- especially since you can't officially install apps when paired with an iPhone (without sideloading, discussed later) -- you do have a few things available, like Weather, Calendar, Fitness, Alarm, Timer and Translate. If you swipe from right to left from this menu, you'll bring up Google Now and can use voice commands to get what you want. Of course, you can just say "Hey Google" for the same functionality and avoid all that swiping. Again, some watches require you to wake them up with a tap before you start barking commands so keep that in mind.
When you swipe up from the bottom of your watch face, you'll bring up your latest notification. If you keep swiping up, you'll move on to the next one. Swiping from left to right will dismiss that notification. Swiping from right to left, however, will bring up any available actions. Because of Apple's limitations, actionable notifications on your watch aren't really possible with most apps. However, with Google apps you'll have more options. Check out the next section if you want more information on how to have actionable notifications even if you don't want to use Google's apps on your iPhone.
Make Your Notifications More Useful
Actionable notifications make your watch much more useful, but you pretty much only get that functionality with Gmail, Google Calendar and phone calls. You can answer and dismiss calls from your Android Wear device regardless, but for mail and calendar stuff you need Google apps installed on your phone. With this you can respond to calendar invites and archive email with a swipe and a tap on your wrist.
But what if you don't want to use Gmail and Google Calendar? What if you like, say, Airmail and Fantastical? Well, you can still use those apps on your phone, but also install Gmail and Google Calendar as well. With a tiny bit of setup you can block notifications in the right places so you're not seeing double:
- Install Gmail and Google Calendar on your iPhone. Set them up.
- Open Settings on your iPhone and disable notifications for Gmail and Google Calendar in the Notifications section. (If you run into any trouble going forward, you may need to disable notifications but still allow them to show on your lockscreen. This shouldn't be necessary, but some people have issues and you should try this first if you wind up troubleshooting a lack of notifications on your watch.)
- Open Settings in your Android Wear app and go to the "Blocked app notifications" section. Tap the "+ Add apps to block list" down at the bottom and choose your email and calendar apps. Alternatively, just wait until an app you want to block displays a notification on your watch, swipe that notification from right to left, and then tap "Block App". That will do the same thing.
After you've got that all configured, you'll get actionable notifications on your watch from Google's apps and the notifications from your preferred third party apps on your iPhone. You can also use blocking the way it was designed so you don't have to see notifications from apps you don't care about. When you set your watch up, you may want to consider blocking some other apps for peace of mind as well.
Customise Your Watchface
One of the coolest parts of Android Wear is the ability to customise your watch face. While you can do this with a most smartwatches, you have a lot more control on Android Wear. Google limits your choices on iOS to a variety of options you can choose in the app, but there are ways around it and we'll get to that in a minute.
In the meantime, you can press and hold on your smartwatch's screen itself to flip through all the different watch faces available to you. If that's not enough, open up the Android Wear app on your iPhone and browse the watch face gallery for additional options. You'll have some limitations and the installation process is super slow, but some are pretty cool and there should be something suitable for most people.
But I'm not most people. I like certain styles and information on my device screens, so I decided to go full-on custom. We won't get into those details here, but I wrote up some specific instructions on the process should you want to go beyond the options Google permits for you in the Android Wear iOS app.
Explore and Get To Know Your Watch Features
Android Wear does, indeed, have limited functionality on iOS. You can do quite a bit more with an Android phone, but that shouldn't preclude you from enjoying this focused product. If you like to mess around and explore, you have options. If you want to do more you should check these resources out as well:
- If you want to sideload Android Wear apps, you can follow pretty much the same instructions for watch faces I wrote here. If you want specific instructions (which really are almost exactly the same as the ones I gave you), check out this video. Be aware that not all apps will work when sideloaded for a variety of reasons, including that many require an internet connection that your phone provides (unless that watch has its own Wi-Fi or cellular data connection, but that's a big if). An old XDA developers thread used to keep track of what worked, but nobody maintains it any more. You can use it as reference, but prepare yourself for a lot of trial and error here.
- If you want a kind of convoluted route to more features and happen to have an Android device handy, you can use Aerlink. WonderHowTo offers some solid instructions on how to set things up.
- Naturally, you can unlock your bootloader and root your device to enable more possibilities. The usual risks of potentially bricking your watch, losing data or generally messing things up apply. Keep that in mind before diving in.
There's a lot to enjoy in this simple platform -- even with Apple's restrictions -- and you can expand your options as you see fit. While Android Wear with iOS will likely never match the functionality it has on its native platform, you can still get a lot of value out of your smartwatch with these tips and hacks.