Always-On apps with Android Wear

The latest version of Android Wear supports always-on apps that can continue to run in low power ambient mode. Imagine you’re in a grocery store or playing a game. The last thing you want is to have to restart your wear app each time you want to cross an item off your list or tally scores.

Always-on support opens the door for more practical apps on Android Wear. Wearable apps can now serve as a quick dashboard during a run, at a job site or while cooking dinner. Android Wear can now provide high value to both businesses and consumers through the use of wearable apps.

Recognizing ambient mode


Android Always-on apps

Notice in both examples above, the screen goes from color to grayscale. This is something that must be implemented in code and is not done automatically. Always-on apps should also display the time in ambient mode as a best practice.

While in ambient mode, users will not be able to interact with your app. The screen is only used to display relevant information. When the user re-activates the screen by lifting their wrist, they can interact with your app again.

Adding always-on support for Android Wear apps

Ambient mode is enabled on Android Wear by default, however, always-on support for Android Wear apps is something that must be added to your app. Google has provided some great training resources for building apps with always-on support. Before deciding whether to add always-on support, it’s important to consider how people will use your wearable app.

To add or not to add?

Always-on apps operate in a low power state when the watch face is not active, however, you’re still consuming more power than if you’re app wasn’t running at all. You should only add always-on support if it makes sense for your specific app. Here are a few things to consider:

1. Is there a specific feature or function that makes sense to support on a watch?

2. Will your app be used multiple times over the course of an activity?

3. Does your app provide ongoing value in ambient mode?

If you answered yes to the questions above you may benefit from an always-on wear application. On the other hand, if your app only requires a single, short engagement (like a calculator), it may not make sense to add always-on support. In some cases apps could even get by with a well-placed push notification to a wearable device.

“Focus on not stopping the user and all else will follow.”

Think of the watch app as an extension of your mobile phone. What one or two things might the user want to see or do on a watch? Having such a small space, it’s critical to get the content and interactions just right.


Always-on support makes it possible to build Android Wear apps that run for an extended period of time. If you don’t have a wearable strategy yet, now is the time to start building one. As wearable devices become more popular, users will start expecting support. Keep your competitive edge and improve user experience by adding wearable support to your app today.

View these Design Principles for Android Wear to see your options.