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Here's an early look at multiple Wear OS design changes coming to Pixel Watch 2
- Google is preparing to introduce Material You dynamic theming support into Wear OS 4, the current version of the smartwatch operating system.
- The app drawer is also getting a new three-column grid view.
- These features aren’t currently active, but we managed to enable them for an early look.
Updated, February 6, 2024 (01:45 PM ET): After updating my Pixel Watch 2 to the latest February 2024 release, I noticed that there’s now an “Apps” header in the grid view. Also, at the bottom of the app drawer, there are now buttons to quickly switch between the new grid view and the old list view. Handy!
Original article, February 6, 2024 (12:34 PM ET): Google introduced its Material You design language with the release of Android 12 back in 2021. However, dynamic theming, a key feature of Material You, isn’t available on all Android platforms. Google’s Wear OS operating system for smartwatches, for example, doesn’t theme its UI or your apps based on the current watch face. Since the latest version of Wear OS is based on Android 13, the platform should support dynamic theming — and we’ve seen hints in the past that it’s in the works.
Now, though, it seems we’re getting closer to the public launch of Material You support in Wear OS 4. In addition, Google might be adding another highly requested design change for Pixel watches: an app grid.
Wear OS 4 app grid on Pixel Watch 2
As you can see on the right side of the video clip above, the app drawer on my Pixel Watch 2 is now a grid view of installed apps. Typically, the app drawer on the Pixel Watch 2 is a simple, vertically scrolling, single-column list view of all my apps, as seen on the left side of the clip. Depending on how many apps you have installed, it can take some time to scroll through the list to find the app you want to launch.
With the new three-column grid view, however, it takes much less time to scroll through my apps. The only downside of the new grid view app drawer is that it doesn’t show the text name of each app, which means you need to discern apps by their icons alone. That’s probably not going to be a problem for most people, given that you probably install far fewer apps on your smartwatch than on your phone, but it’s worth considering.
If you aren’t a fan of the new grid view, it appears you’ll be able to switch back to the list view by going to Settings > General > App view. Note that this menu currently isn’t accessible on the Pixel Watch 2 as the grid view app drawer feature hasn’t rolled out yet. We had to enable the feature manually in order to get these images. Fortunately, since this feature seems to be fully working on both the original Pixel Watch and the Pixel Watch 2 on the latest Wear OS version, it’s only a matter of time before it rolls out.
Material You in Wear OS
Material You’s dynamic theming support is another feature that looks almost ready. After enabling the feature manually, a new “watch face & style” menu appeared under Settings. This menu has a shortcut to change the watch face or system theme.
The system theme can either be changed to match the current watch face (i.e., dynamic theming) or a preset theme. The list of preset themes is as follows:
At the moment, there aren’t many apps or even places in the OS that support Material You theming, but here’s an example of how the brightness menu changes in response to the current theme.
Google is currently working on the next version of Wear OS, which is expected to be Wear OS 5 based on Android 14, but we shouldn’t need to wait that long to get these features. That’s because both of these features are already present in the current Wear OS 4 build for the Pixel Watch and the Pixel Watch 2, so they should launch sometime soon, perhaps in the upcoming March 2024 Pixel Feature Drop. Material You support should become a part of the Wear OS platform, meaning it’ll be available on other smartwatches that update to a current build of Wear OS 4 distributed by Google.
The grid view app launcher, on the other hand, is part of the Wear OS launcher that OEMs are expected to customize, so this implementation is likely going to be exclusive to the Pixel Watch family. Fortunately, other OEMs like Samsung already offer a grid view app launcher on their smartwatches, so it’s really only the Pixel Watch that has missed out on this UI for the app drawer.
Keep an eye out for our coverage of future Wear OS and Pixel Watch updates to find out when these features launch!
Special thanks to Mastodon user firstname.lastname@example.org for sharing the method to enable these features!