Google’s Android Wear seemingly had a brief moment in the sun when devices like the LG Watch Urbane or the Moto 360 were released but the whole conversation around smartwatches has shifted to the Apple Watch following its big build and pre-ordering frenzy.
On Monday, Google announced a couple of modest but important updates to its wearable OS Android Wear, which will set it up for the future. If you’re wearing an Android Wear watch right now you may have felt a little neglected of late, but here’s what you have to look forward to.
Arguably the most important update of the lot is that Android Wear supports smartwatches that have Wi-Fi built in. Android Wear users will now have another way to connect with their smartwatches and leave their smartphone behind if they wish. While your watch is connected to a Wi-Fi connection and your phone has a data connection back home, you’ll still receive your notifications and be able to send messages. One of the handiest features too includes asking your watch where your phone is; just in case you lost it or forgot where you left it.
Previously your Android Wear smartwatch would revert back to its time face after a couple of seconds or minutes. Following the “always on” mentality of the rest of our devices, the app you have open on your wrist will now remain on until you decide to close it. To save battery life, the light will dim when your wrist is lowered. “[Y]ou get the info you need, and you save on battery life,” says the Google Blog. How effective that ends up being will depend on the smartwatch you have.
Speaking of battery life, this could be where some users are won and lost. The Apple Watch, for example, has a running time of approximately 18 hours, which left some scratching their heads. Much like smartphones before them, smartwatches’ batteries will be put to the test in day to day usage. The latest updates to Android Wear will save some battery life while prior updates have made gentle strides too with improvements likely to come down the line.
Among the new updates are changes to how you access your apps and send messages. Now a tap of the watch face will bring your straight to your apps. A quick flick of the wrist will allow you to stream through your apps while emoji support now allows for drawing symbols on the watch face with your hand.
While the ability to get a quick note down has always been possible with voice command, the newest update to Android Wear turns Google Keep into a full-functioning app. You can scroll through and see all the notes you’ve taken, archive ones you don’t need anymore, and even add reminders to ones that are time-sensitive. It’s a pretty handy thing to have on your wrist and is essential for keeping Android Wear’s functionality competitive with the Apple Watch.
There’s no questions that the Apple Watch has been the biggest smartwatch to date. Granted, Android-powered smartwatches like the Moto 360 beat Apple to the punch in getting a device to market but despite some favorable reviews for Android devices, the Apple Watch is the first smartwatch that has really earned the eye of the mainstream public.
This has likely spurred Google to update Android Wear with some new features for the next round of smartwatches from the likes of Motorola or Sony, which will be feeling the pressure now to win over some new users. We expect Android Wear and other smartwatch makers to begin upping their game now.