Google told developers that it would deprecate the legacy method for installing Wear OS apps in March. Existing users of the Android-based wearable platform have yet to be impacted, but those setting up new watches or repairing are getting hit by this change.

In 2017, Android Wear 2.0 introduced the standalone app model and an on-watch Play Store. Google wanted smartwatch apps to no longer be bundled with or reliant on their phone counterparts (for communication) as part of making wearables more independent.

However, the legacy model remained, with those embedded applications only installable by going to the “Apps on your phone” section — seen above — of the on-device Play Store. These apps do not appear in Google Play search, cannot be featured in the store, and “adds excessive bloat to the APK that is downloaded onto a user’s phone, whether or not they own a smartwatch.”

In February, Google announced that those legacy applications would “effectively be undiscoverable inside the on-watch Play Store” on March 10. A month since that deadline, the first users to be impacted are those setting up Wear OS devices. Existing watches still have access to the “Apps on your phone” section, but new pairings do not.

This change is already impacting users of the Dexcom G6 glucose monitor companion app that want to take advantage of the Wear OS client to view readings, trend graphs, alerts, and set alarms on their wrist. 

There are a handful of incidents already, with one Wear OS owner not able to install the glucose app after having to factory reset their watch as part of getting a new Android phone. Meanwhile, Google support told another person in the same situation to contact Dexcom directly to get them to update their old app (by switching to the multi-APK model).

It’s unclear how many apps are still using the legacy method, and whether all developers will do the work of upgrading. In making this change, Google very pointedly reiterated its commitment to the wearable platform.

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Deprecation of legacy Wear OS app install method impacting new watch owners, pairings
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