All Android Wear apps are not created equal. Here are 15 standout selections that actually add value to the smartwatch form.

Expand your Android Wear horizons
Google’s Android Wear platform is pretty powerful out of the box — but with the right set of apps, it can be made even more useful.

Any Android app can actually interact with a Wear watch via its regular notifications. Certain apps, however, take things a step further with advanced features and special interfaces.

Of course, just because an app works on a watch doesn’t mean it’s worth using. Wear apps shouldn’t merely be watered-down versions of what we have on our phones; they should provide meaningful value specific to the smartwatch form — in a way that actually makes sense for a wrist-based device.

These 15 apps accomplish that, and they’re well worth giving a whirl.

Wear Unlock for Android Wear
This app is one you’ll probably never open once you have set it up — but its presence will benefit you almost every day.

Wear Unlock ($1.99) turns your smartwatch into a wireless key for your phone: Whenever your watch is present and paired, your phone won’t prompt you for a PIN or password. When your watch isn’t actively connected, your phone will automatically lock itself and enable a security prompt.

That type of function is available natively in the Moto X — and will be built into Android itself starting with this fall’s “L” release — but Wear Unlock makes it work with any phone today.

Wear Unlock for Android Wear
This app is one you’ll probably never open once you have set it up — but its presence will benefit you almost every day.

Wear Unlock ($1.99) turns your smartwatch into a wireless key for your phone: Whenever your watch is present and paired, your phone won’t prompt you for a PIN or password. When your watch isn’t actively connected, your phone will automatically lock itself and enable a security prompt.

That type of function is available natively in the Moto X — and will be built into Android itself starting with this fall’s “L” release — but Wear Unlock makes it work with any phone today.

Wear Aware – Phone Finder
Your Android Wear watch is always on your wrist — and that means it can help make sure you never leave your phone behind.

Wear Aware (free) runs in the background on both devices and buzzes your watch anytime your phone moves out of range. That way, if you set the phone down and walk out of a room, you’ll figure it out before you get too far.

The app also allows you to manually page your phone from your watch so you can easily find it when it’s out of sight (like those times when it’s magically hidden between your couch cushions).

IFTTT
No single Android Wear app offers more possibilities than IFTTT. The app — which stands for “If This, Then That” — connects to the cloud-based service of the same name.

IFTTT (free) allows you to configure and run all sorts of recipes that bring together different types of Web-driven actions. You can use it to set the temperature on a Nest thermostat, for example, or to activate an appliance connected to a Belkin WeMo switch. You can even use it to trigger a fake call to your phone, if you’re ever desperate for an excuse.

Anyone can create and contribute new recipes, and the list of available options grows with each passing week.

PixtoCam for Android Wear
Google’s native Android Camera app has built-in Wear functionality: When you open the app on your phone, a card appears on your watch with a simple button to activate the shutter remotely.

Handy, sure, but that’s just scratching the surface of the ways Wear can interact with your phone’s camera. An app called PixtoCam ($1.99) actually lets you see through your phone’s lens anytime you open it on your watch. You can remotely snap photos or capture videos and even control the camera’s zoom and flash from your wrist.

The app’s interface isn’t great — but if you’re willing to put up with that, its functionality is fantastic.

Allthecooks Recipes
Allthecooks (free) is a prime example of how an app can adapt sensibly to the smartwatch form. The way it works is simple: You open the app on your phone and find a recipe you want to attempt.

Once you make a selection, the recipe automatically shows up as a card on your watch. You tap it to bring up step-by-step instructions formatted to fit the small screen. Each step is on a single card, and you swipe horizontally to move from one to the next.

That keeps your hands free while you’re cooking and allows you to glance down at your wrist for all the info you need — and that, my friends, is what a smartwatch is all about.

RunKeeper – GPS Track Run Walk
RunKeeper (free) makes excellent use of the smartwatch form. The app is designed to track your walks, runs and bike rides while providing detailed ongoing info about your progress.

Anytime you start a new activity, RunKeeper places a card on your watch that lets you view your current time, total miles traveled and miles per minute. You can pause or stop the activity by using on-screen buttons or by tapping a microphone icon and saying “pause” or “stop.” When you’re finished, RunKeeper gives you a summary card that shows all of your stats, including totals for the aforementioned measurements as well as the number of calories burned.

An optional $9.99/month subscription offers features like long-term statistics.

Golfshot: Golf GPS

Golfshot (free) turns your Android Wear watch into an intelligent guide for all your golfing adventures. You simply tell the app what course you’re playing on and it puts pertinent info on your watch’s display as you go.

Cards from Golfshot show you the distance from your current location to each hole, along with stats like the par and handicap for every stop along the way. You can also get the distance to the course’s hazards in order to keep track of upcoming obstacles.

An optional $4.99/month subscription enables enhanced features like 3D flyovers and personalized recommendations.

EchoWear Song Search
Google’s ability to identify a song on demand is an awesome feature for music fans — and with a screen on your wrist, it’s easier than ever to access that information.

Install EchoWear Song Search (free) on your Android Wear device and the next time a song that you don’t know is playing, tell your watch to “Start Echo Search.” The app will listen to the tune through the watch’s mic and then present you with a card showing the artist and track title.

Wear Mini Launcher
In theory, Android Wear is designed to revolve around voice commands and contextual information — but in reality, there are also times you’ll want to manually open an app or adjust your watch’s settings. The current version of the software doesn’t make those tasks easy.

That’s where a utility called Wear Mini Launcher comes in handy. Wear Mini Launcher (free) adds a hidden drawer that appears anytime you swipe over from the left side of your watch’s home screen. The drawer gives you quick access to all of your apps as well as tools to adjust the watch’s brightness, view the battery level of your watch and your phone, and remotely toggle things like your phone’s Wi-Fi and volume settings.

@here for Android Wear
Ever find yourself in an unfamiliar area and attempting to tell someone where you are? An app called @here (free) can help.

The app does all the work for you: When you’re in a new location, @here will place a card on your Wear watch showing your current address on a map. You can swipe sideways to see the name of the neighborhood and to get a closer view of the streets around you.

If you’d rather not get location cards automatically, you can also opt to have @here appear only when you explicitly ask for its assistance.

Emergency Alert for Wear
Emergency Alert (free) is an app you probably won’t need often — but one that might be worth keeping around just in case.

The app allows you to set a predefined emergency contact and message. You can then speak the command “Start Emergency Alert” into your watch to have the message delivered via SMS along with an interactive map of your location. (The app does require a single on-screen tap for confirmation to make sure you don’t trigger an alert by mistake.)

Of course, the app doesn’t have to be used only for emergencies; you could also employ it as a tool for quickly sharing your location with a specific friend or loved one to make it easier to meet.

Lyft
Next time you need a ride, try speaking into your wrist. Lyft (free) lets you request a pickup via Wear with an easy-to-remember voice command: “Call me a car.”

Once a driver’s en route, the app delivers card-based updates to your watch that show you the vehicle’s estimated arrival time along with the option to cancel.

Lyft isn’t available everywhere, but if you’re in one of the places where the service is provided, its Wear integration delivers a top-notch — and thus far unmatched — experience.

Fly Delta
Flying the friendly skies? Grab the official Fly Delta app (free), and you’ll automatically get useful info on your Android Wear watch when you need it.

Delta’s app delivers nicely formatted updates about your itinerary along with mobile boarding pass barcodes so you never have to whip out your phone or physical documents. Its updates start appearing as cards as soon as you’re checked in.

(The American Airlines app (free) also provides similar functionality.)

1Weather: Widget Forecast Radar
Android Wear has its own native weather cards, but you can step things up a notch with the aid of 1Weather (free — an optional $1.99 upgrade removes ads).

The app’s main card shows you the current conditions for your area or any other area you select. Swiping over once gives you a glimpse at what’s ahead for the rest of the day — broken down into segments like “morning,” “noon,” “evening” and “night” — while swiping over a second time lets you look ahead at the four-day forecast.

Baby Time: Android Wear Lock
If you spend any time holding a small child, this app might be just what the doctor ordered.

Baby Time (free) offers an easy way to baby-proof your Android Wear watch: Just issue the voice command “Run Baby Time,” and your screen will go dim and stop responding to taps and basic swipes. To get the watch back in its normal mode, you’ll have to swipe up twice and then down twice — something even the most advanced infant is unlikely to do.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. For more Android tips and insights, follow him on Google+ or Twitter.


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