Wearable Widgets is available as a native app on Android Wear, bringing any home screen widget from your paired Android phone to your watch. It fully supports both round and square displays, though individual widgets will fit better on one or the other.
To get started, you'll obviously need one of these devices, and it will need to be paired to your phone using Google's Wear companion app. You'll also need to install the Wearable Widgets app on your phone; doing so should automatically configure your watch to receive widgets. Then just run our app on your phone to get things set up.
Using Your Widgets
After you've selected a widget or two (using the phone app), see them on the watch with the voice command "Ok Google, start widgets". If you prefer, you can also find Wearable Widgets in the touch menu of the watch, alongside its icon in the "Start…" app list.
Once started, you can swipe horizontally through the widgets you've configured, and tap or swipe vertically on the widgets themselves (as supported by individual widgets). After you've left the app – either by swiping left-to-right, or by letting the watch timeout to its low-power state – the device returns to its default watchface/notification mode. You can also exit by long-pressing in the app and selecting Exit.
If you want to remove Wearable Widgets from your watch, simply uninstall the app from your phone.
Wearable Widgets supports Wear's ambient mode, in which the last running app remains visible on the screen of the watch after it times out to low-power mode. It's sort of a halfway step between an interactive app and a watch face: the app is still visible, showing you information, but the watch is using less power than when it's fully awake.
With Wearable Widgets, this can be handy for temporary use of a widget that you want to keep around for awhile, but don't want to actually use as your watch face. Examples might include a widget from an activity tracker app while you're exercising, or a podcast app while you're listening.
To invoke ambient mode, start the WW app on your watch (using the instructions in Using Your Widgets above), then long-press on the widget and select Ambient Mode. This will keep the current widget visible, although it will drop back to updating once per minute to conserve power.
To leave ambient mode, wake your watch up (with a touch on the screen or tap of the crown), and exit the Wearable Widgets app as usual: swipe left-to-right, or long-press > Exit.
Widgets as a Watch Face
Using your widgets as a watch face on Android Wear is fully supported, though there are a few aspects that you should be aware of before using it (see below). When you're ready to try it, just long-press on your existing watch face and select Wearable Widgets.
Note that you can't scroll the watch face widget (as you can when it's running interactively), as the Wear system reserves vertical swipes for its own use. Tap interactions are supported, however, as of WW 5.3 and Android Wear 1.3. And if you have multiple widgets set up, we do have gestures for switching between them that work on most watches; see the gestures section below. Otherwise, the last widget that you had open on the watch will appear as your watch face.
Wearable Widgets works by sending an image of a widget from your phone to your watch over their shared Bluetooth (or WiFi) connection, and it’s unavoidable that this is going to use more power (on both sides) than a simple, self-contained watch face. We’ve worked hard to minimize this as much as possible, but only so much is possible. If you want to have the benefit of a widget on your watch, this is one of the tradeoffs.
Having said that, there are a few things that you can do to cut down on battery use:
Adjust the update interval. You’ll find this in the WW phone app, under Settings > Wear watch face
settings, and we encourage you to select a value that makes sense for the widget you’re using as a
watch face. For example, if you’re using a weather widget that only updates its forecast once an hour,
there’s no sense in updating the watch more often than that.
Even for widgets that do update frequently, do you really need to see every update on your watch? Increasing the update interval from 5 seconds to 10 seconds will cut battery use roughly in half – and increasing it to 30 seconds will cut it by a factor of 6.
- On AMOLED wearables (currently the Samsung Gear Live and Asus ZenWatch), select a widget with a lot of black. AMOLED screens use no power for black pixels, so the battery use between a mostly-black widget and a mostly-dark-gray one is actually significant. We’re looking into adjusting contrast automatically in the app, but until this happens, it’s up to you.
- Try turning off Always keep widgets running, on the main WW Settings page. This causes a few widgets to update incorrectly (which is why we say try), but if it works for your widgets, it should reduce power consumption.
- Does your widget really need to be cropped? This is another of the app's Settings, and while it is required for some widgets to fit well on the watch, others work perfectly fine without it - and it is CPU-intensive. Experiment with this setting on your particular widget: if you can live without it, your battery will benefit.
Given the nature of Wearable Widgets, an active connection between your phone and watch is an absolute requirement for your widgets to work. If that connection is lost (say, if your phone is out of Bluetooth range of your watch), your widgets will stop working until the connection is restored. There’s no getting around this, and you need to decide if this limitation is acceptable for the widget(s) you want to use as a watch face.
We have added one feature to mitigate this issue somewhat, and it’s something we call a backup watch face. When the Bluetooth connection is lost, WW will display a message saying so – and by default, it will also show the current time. The idea here is that even without Bluetooth, your smartwatch should at least still function as a watch. If you don’t want the backup watch face, it can be turned off in the Wear watch face settings on the WW phone app.
Incidentally, on watches with a built-in WiFi radio (which is most of them), Bluetooth is not an absolute requirement for Wearable Widgets. Our app will also function over the shared WiFi connection between handheld and wearable, whenever both have a connection to the wider internet.
System UI Options
Android Wear includes a number of user-interface (UI) elements that it may display on a watch face, and Wearable Widgets gives you some control over these, allowing you to pick the options which work best with your widgets. There are a few of these, listed below, and the corresponding controls can be found in the WW app's Wear watch face settings screen.
Ambient mode peek cards
If you use your watch in ambient mode – meaning that the screen is on dim when the watch is "asleep" – Android Wear can show the top notification from the connected phone at the bottom of the watch face. This is called a peek card, and this setting determines whether it'll be shown, and how tall.
If you do choose to show the peek card, Wearable Widgets will automatically gray out the area of widget directly underneath it. See the Gmail screenshot at right: this underlay significantly improves the readability of the weather notification showing on top of the watch face.
Status Bar and Hotword Position
Android Wear frequently shows a set of small system icons on the watch face, called the status bar; you can see an examples at the upper-left of the screenshots above. Wearable Widgets gives you control over the placement of these icons, as well as the "Ok Google" hotword that's sometimes shown on the watch face. Pick the location that works best for your widgets.
Gestures to Switch Between Widgets: Experimental
Starting with Wearable Widgets 5.3, we're experimenting with a few different gestures to switch between multiple widgets when using them as a watch face. You can control these in the Settings section of the Wearable Widgets app on your phone, on the Wear watch face settings page.
Be aware that these features are decidedly experimental, meaning that we are still working on them. They also only work when the watch is "awake" (not in ambient mode, or with the screen off).
Wearable Widgets supports swipe gestures to switch between widgets, the same as you use within the interactive app. When you reach the end of your widget list, swiping again will bring you back around to the beginning. Note: to avoid dismissing notifications instead of switching widgets, the swipe gesture is only available when no notifications are visible on your watch.
Be aware that the right-to-left swipe gesture is also used by Android Wear to invoke the app list. With swipe enabled in WW, it should work such that a swipe from the right edge opens the system app list, while a left-swipe from the middle of the face switches widgets. But clearly, this is a fairly subtle distinction, and not one that every user will be comfortable with. If it's problematic for you, you can disable right-to-left swipe in the Wearable Widgets phone app, under Settings > Wear watch face.
Because the swipe gesture has issues on watch faces, we've also devised a new gesture for switching widgets: a gentle tap on the side of the watch. For a demo, see the video at right; with a little practice, it becomes remarkably intuitive.
Now, the caveats:
- This gesture is also disabled by default. If you want to try it, check the appropriate box on the Wear watch face settings screen.
- It doesn't work on the Moto 360*, and probably never will.
If you do try this feature, and find ways that it can be improved on your watch, please email and tell us about it – don’t just sit and complain. Thanks!
*Tap-to-switch uses the watch's accelerometer to detect the tap, and in our testing such a tap lasts less than 5 milliseconds. Most devices are able to detect such a brief pulse of acceleration, but even at its fastest setting, our Moto 360 only sampled the accelerometer every 40-50 milliseconds – far too slow to pick up a tap.