A comprehensive guide to craft amazing Android Wear applications

Lorenzo Zanotto
Mar 6, 2015 · 4 min read

Android Wear is constantly evolving, wearable devices will rapidly take a considerable space on mobile market. Both developers and designers shouldn’t underestimate the possibility to realize useful companion apps taking advantage of renewed interactions with user.
Here some tips to design good experiences on wearable devices.

Recently I had the opportunity to assist some good startups (knowing them via forums, crowdfunding platforms, events) mostly they were working on mobile only projects and designing state of art interfaces was the priority.
Well, designing for smartphones can be complex, anyway there is enough space on the display to build satisfactory interfaces to let users enjoy our applications.
Android Wear devices can rely only on 1.5-inch display with a resolution of 280x280 px @ XHDPI and design approach on this platform is totally different.

Configuring a wear application

Let’s see what is needed to starting build an Android Wear Application,
we’ll use Android Studio, it has good compatibility and really simplify things.

You’ll know that it’s time to explore Android Wear platform when you’ll open this window.

Creating a new project is really easy, just select the Android Wear platform and then “Wear Activity” as default application module.
Taking a look into project structure we can see that our wear project is separated from our mobile project, this because Android Studio will use two different build settings to compile both applications.

Talking about the code, we immediately notice that Android Wear’s main container (or View Group) is a WatchViewStub, and it’s used as wrapper to tell the inflate method to render the interface.

Designing delightful Android Wear interfaces

Working with these startups made me possible to know amazing people operating on the wear platform, I had the opportunity to discuss long time with these experts before starting to design the interface.

The main goal of Android Wear design is to keep informations well organized, bold and easily connected with the corresponding phone’s application.

Also the interactions between user and wearable devices should be immediate, as said before a small screen doesn’t allow complex tasks. Design principles for Android Wear recommends 5 seconds as maximum interaction time with wearable apps.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… done!

Fast interactions, distraction free actions, intuitive gestures: these are key points of Android Wear platform and they represent a totally new way to conceive UX.
Spacing is also fundamental, small screen must be accompanied with big elements.

Big List View elements, we don’t want our users pressing 3–4 items at time

Cards and icons

Android Wear design has one important characteristic: cards.
They’re, in few words, the principal information that users quickly want to read.
They can be notifications, directions to a place, reminders of an event, offers and discounts nearby based on your location (my is actually developing this latest concept).
Informations on card have to be synthetically and carefully organized, if clicked, they should redirect to an expanded version of the information.

Grids and margins

The difference between squared and rounded displays means that grids should be adapted to match different concepts.
If a squared displays has a padding of 12 dp between content and margin a rounded display should has 26 dp of padding.
Why? Borders on rounded displays are irregulars, so corners of the main card can be easily cut and the result will be inconceivable.

Squared vs Rounded margins, thanks to Roman Nurik.

Tips for designers

Designing for Android Wear can be a bit different for designing phase too.
While regular mobile design requires wireframing, mockupping and prototyping, Android Wear requires one more step: scalability studying.

Scalability on Android Wear isn’t the same thing as Android’s Phones vs Tablets, it requires a study on how informations have to be displayed, how the user will interact with our app and especially what’s the behavior of the wearable app related to mobile one.


Android Wear is a totally new platform, constantly evolving and in 2 years it will find the right scope in our everyday life.
It’ll be one of the next great things and we, designers and developers, have to be ready for the transiction between mobile and wearable.

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