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Wear OS 5 Developer Preview has two new features Google didn't tell us about

A grid-based app launcher and privacy dashboard will come to the Pixel Watch in the Wear OS 5 update.
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Published onMay 16, 2024

google pixel watch wear os watch face typograph 2
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
TL;DR
  • Wear OS 5 will bring the long-awaited grid-based app launcher to the Pixel Watch and Pixel Watch 2.
  • Many Wear OS smartwatches already offer a grid view for their app launcher, but this feature isn’t part of the stock Wear OS experience.
  • Wear OS 5 will also add the privacy dashboard feature from Android 12.

During Google I/O 2024, Google unveiled a ton of updates to the Android operating system, including a new version of its wearable platform. Wear OS 5 will be coming later this year, so in preparation for its release, Google shared a preliminary Developer Preview build that offers early access to the platform’s new features and APIs. While we were exploring the first Wear OS 5 Developer Preview build, we discovered that it has several new features not mentioned in Google’s blog post announcing the update.

The first of these features is a new grid-based app launcher, a feature we previously spotted and enabled in Wear OS 4. The Wear OS 5 Developer Preview adds a grid view for the app launcher that you can toggle by going to Settings > General > App view or by scrolling down to the bottom of the app list. The previous list-based app launcher is still provided as an option, of course.

Notably, Wear OS 5’s new grid-based app launcher is listed on Google’s Wear OS 5 features page, which suggests this is now a core feature of the Wear OS platform. However, Google’s page notes that Wear OS 5’s new grid-based app launcher is “visually similar to several launchers that device manufacturers already offer on Wear OS.” Indeed, my OnePlus Watch 2 already offers a grid view as do some other smartwatches. Google’s very own Pixel Watch and Pixel Watch 2 do not, though, so the inclusion of a built-in, system-provided grid-based app launcher will be a welcome addition for many users.

The next new feature I noticed in the Wear OS 5 Developer Preview is the privacy dashboard. Privacy dashboard is found under Settings > Apps & notifications in Wear OS 5, and it functions similarly to the feature introduced in Android 12 for phones. It shows you a list of sensitive permissions and how often they were accessed in the past 24 hours, making it easier to see and manage app permissions.

Google’s Wear OS 5 features page also lists a feature that lets users choose the media output device, but I couldn’t test this out on the emulator. The update supposedly “provides a system UI that lets users choose which device should play media and show information about the currently playing media content.” This feature basically lets Wear OS apps launch the system media output switcher; this is useful for when the user tries to start media playback in a Wear OS app but there isn’t a Bluetooth headset connected.

Wear OS 5 also promises some notable battery life improvements, especially while tracking workouts. Google says that marathon runs consume up to 20% less power than on Wear OS 4, for example. In addition, the company has improved the Watch Face Format (WFF) in Wear OS 5 by adding support for “flavors”, new complication types, and new data sources. The Health Services app adds new data types for running and now supports debounced goals for instantaneous metrics. Lastly, since Wear OS 5 is based on Android 14, it also introduces a couple of changes that are part of that platform release, including a screenshot detection API for developers.

One feature that’s notably missing in the Wear OS 5 Developer Preview is Material You dynamic theming. We know this is coming eventually since we managed to enable it partially in Wear OS 4, but Google has given no indication of when it’ll arrive. Hopefully, the answer will be soon because otherwise, the list of changes in Wear OS 5 seems pretty sparse.

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