Android Wear apps have the ability to be installed and used independently of a smartphone app, but there are two catches. One is that the smartwatch needs to be able to connect to the Internet on its own, but only if the need arises. The other, harder requirement is that they are running Android Wear 2.0. Older smartwatches are more than capable of meeting the first requirement but may never see the light of Android Wear 2.0. Fortunately, Google has decided to bring at least that part of Android Wear 2.0 to first generation smartwatches, allowing developers and users to enjoy standalone smartwatch apps.
“Standalone apps” actually refers to two related features, at least from the user’s perspective. One is that the smartwatch app should be able to function even when a paired smartphone isn’t nearby. That may be because the app doesn’t need any network connection to work or that the smartwatch can connect to the Internet on its own, via Wi-Fi, 3G, or the like.
Standalone apps are also independent of the smartphone apps they are associated with. Before Android Wear 2.0, Android Wear apps had to be bundled with the Android smartphone app, which presented a few problems. For one, you had to install the smartphone app first before you could even install the smartwatch app. Second, and related to that, it posed a problem for Android Wear users with iPhones, because they won’t be able to install the Android smartphone app in the first place. That’s why it was only in Android Wear 2.0, which introduced standalone apps, that iOS support was formally added.
So now standalone apps will be coming to Android Wear 1.0 devices so that they too can enjoy independence from smartphones, even an Android smartphone. Developers can now create multi-APKs, which means having a Wear APK separate from the phone APK, even though they’re developed together. In fact, they actually may have no choice in the matter.
Starting January 18, 2018, Wear apps that are still bundled with mobile apps will no longer have the “Enhanced for Android Wear” badge in Google Play Store. In a similar vein, mobile apps that send Wear notifications but don’t have a separate Wear app will lose that badge as well. This policy change is Google’s way of promoting standalone Wear apps, which is to say forcing developers to update their apps as well.