Android Wear is getting its biggest update yet, including Wi-Fi support, emojis and hand gestures, as Google aims to bolster its digital timepieces ahead of the Apple Watch launch.
The move means that Android Wear watches can function without being tethered to a smartphone via Bluetooth- unlike the upcoming Apple Watch that needs an iPhone to function properly.
The update, which will be available first on the new LG Watch Urbane and others via a software update, will also feature a new menu system to make accessing to apps and contacts faster without voice.
Google has also implemented quick access to apps running on the smartwatch, with three homescreens swiping from left to right instead of one long list. The first has apps, the second contacts and the third Google’s voice search.
The feature should help access to apps and features without having to resort to voice control, one of the biggest criticisms of Android Wear on its launch.
“When you buy a watch you want it to, well, tell the time. So most Android Wear watches include an always-on screen – no tapping, twisting or shaking required to see what time it is,” said David Singleton, director of engineering for Android Wear in a barb clearly aimed at Apple’s smartwatch, which lights up when the wrist is rotated to look at the screen. “Now we’re expanding this option to apps, so they can stay visible as long as you need them, instead of disappearing when you drop your arm.
Previously apps had been hidden by the watch face after a couple of seconds of inactivity. Both apps and watch faces fade to black and white called “ambient mode” when not actively being used to save battery.
Google has also added gesture control to make navigating between cards on the watch face hands free. Rotating the wrist away from the user will cycle through the cards and bring them full screen.
Users will also be able to draw out an emoji on the touchscreen and have Google recognise it before sending it on to contacts as a reply in any messaging app, not just Google Hangouts or text messages.