Talking tech since 2003

Google announced a fun and functional bunch of new features set to debut on Android Wear in the coming weeks. The update will be the biggest improvement to the Android Wear OS yet, with new ways to interact with notifications and a smarter way to access apps, among other added tweaks.

Smarter Apps, Less Talking

Navigating Android Wear’s UI to find the apps you want has been something of a chore to this point; users have had to either flick through a variety of menus or use voice commands, which isn’t always convenient. Clever users might have downloaded Wear Launcher, a third-party app that allows for quicker app navigation and access to settings. But now it seems Google has solved this problem, providing app access with a single touch on the watch face.

alwayson_500That addition has been rolled into Google’s redesign for how users can access contacts and voice commands. While the first tap brings up your app list, swiping left will reveal contacts, and another swipe in the same direction provides the voice command list—which was formerly the first screen users saw after a watch face tap. It’s a smart revision that gives apps first priority—after all, if you want to use voice commands immediately, you can still say “OK Google” and start jabbering away.

On the subject of apps, Google has wisely changed how long Android Wear apps stick around while in-use. For instance, if you’re checking off items on Google Keep while grocery shopping, the app will remain open even if you drop your arm to grab a carton of milk. This small change will help Android Wear make good on its promise to help users keep their phones in their pockets. Making apps more usable and useful on your wrist means your phone can stay tucked away.

Gestures, And Chasing The Apple Watch

quick2_emoji_reply_blogAndroid Wear will now support limited gesture interaction, specifically flicking your wrist to cycle through notification cards. I’ve found my ZenWatch’s gesture recognition to be less than stellar so far (it lights up when I’m not doing anything, and fails to light up when I want it to), so I have my doubts about how useful this will turn out to be, at least for this generation of devices.

Google has also added its take on two of the Apple Watch’s features: Wi-Fi support and Emoji Drawing. The former will let users enjoy their smartwatches without needing to be tethered to their smartphones. The latter may not be as personal or flashy as being able to send actual drawings to your friends like you can on the Apple Watch, but it does give more choices for users to respond to texts without having to speak them aloud.

Overall, these are great, huge changes for Android Wear, and will star to roll out to devices in the next few weeks. I, for one, can’t wait.

[Android Wear: Wear What You Want, Get What You Need]

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