Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Android Wear will get Wi-Fi support, gesture control in next software release

Google isn't standing still with its wearable platform now that Apple has given the press a chance to use the Apple Watch. A source knowledgeable with Android Wear's product road map tells The Verge that the next software release will turn on Wi-Fi support, meaning that features like notifications and Google Now will work when a Bluetooth connection is unavailable. Most Android Wear watches already have Wi-Fi built in, so a simple software update should activate the feature for them.

Android Wear will get Wi-Fi support, gesture contrAlong with the Wi-Fi update, there will be at least two additional, smaller updates. The first is gesture control. Users will be able to flick their wrist to scroll through notifications and Google Now cards, rather than needing to use their other hand to swipe on the screen. The UI will also get some tweaks, with easier access to both Android Wear applications and contacts. Finding applications in Android Wear right now requires either spoken commands or digging through an extra layer of menus.

Just yesterday, Apple revealed the last pieces of information about the Apple Watch that we were waiting for. Apple detailed support for what looks to be a surprisingly robust ecosystem of apps and services that will work with its Watch, which will likely cut into any head start Android Wear managed to get. Google has recently become more vocal about Android Wear on its blogs, detailing developer APIs for Wear and a growing ecosystem of apps.

Of course, direct comparisons between the two watch platforms can only go so far. Neither smartwatch works with the competitor's smartphone: Android users can't use the Apple Watch, and iPhone users can't use Android Wear. But because of that lock-in, it's important for both companies to work to maintain something like feature parity, so as to prevent users from wanting to switch platforms because they'd like to use a different smartwatch. That sort of concern may seem small while the smartwatch market is so nascent, but if Apple and Google have their way, it won't remain a small market for very long.