Future Android Wear Watches: What New Features Will They Have?
If there’s one piece of technology that makes a future of smaller and smarter devices seem imminent, it’s the smartwatch. But by most accounts, smartwatches aren’t yet smart enough to be essential to anyone but a niche of early adopters. From the Apple Watch to the assortment of wearables powered by Google’s Android Wear platform, the hardware and software that’s available to smartwatch shoppers right now needs to give way to more capable versions if Apple and Google want to make these gadgets compelling for a wide range of users. With the next version of its Android Wear software, Google seems to be making changes with exactly that goal in mind.
Android Wear user experience designer Krystal Higgins announced on Google’s Official Android Blog that Google is expanding Android Wear’s support for voice actions and gestures, two important ways of interacting with a device that not only has a pretty small screen, but is strapped to your wrist, often when your hands are occupied with other tasks.
The next version of the platform, which will roll out to existing Android Wear watches “over the next few weeks,” will enable users to navigate through their watch’s notifications and features with new gestures. Android Wear users can already scroll up and down the card stream with a flick of their wrists, but they’ll soon gain the ability to expand a card, bring up apps, or return home to the watch face with gestures Google is calling pushes, lifts, and shakes.
The company’s support page for Android Wear explains all of those gestures with neat diagrams, but the gestures are all movements that require only one wrist (the one where you’re wearing the watch), which leaves your other hand free for important things like holding your coffee. You can take action on cards by quickly moving your arm downward (in a gesture called a push), or perform the action in reverse to go back. Or, if you want to get back to the watch face, you can shake your wrist back and forth.
The latest version of Android Wear also expands the number of tasks that you’ll be able to complete with voice commands. While Android Wear users have always been able to get answers to spoken questions, they’ll also be able to use voice commands to send messages via Google Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp. But what’s perhaps the most interesting addition that Google made with the Android Wear update is the ability to make calls and listen to messages using speaker support.
When the update rolls out to Android Wear watches currently on the market, and is incorporated into smartwatches still in development, users will be able to make and take calls via Bluetooth, or listen to audio and video messages received via apps like Glide. Glide, if you aren’t familiar with the name yet, is an app that handles video messaging on iOS and Android smartphones and smartwatches. Users record video messages to send to their friends, and while the messages aren’t exchanged in real time like a FaceTime chat, you can start watching a video shortly after your best friend, for instance, has begun recording.
Of course, to take advantage of Android Wear’s speaker support, you’ll need a smartwatch with a speaker. So far, that limits your choices to just two options: the Huawei Watch or the ASUS ZenWatch 2. But as Mark Sullivan reports for Fast Company, the Android Wear update is the closest the platform has come so far to “turn[ing] your device into the Dick Tracy watch,” referring to the “2-way Wrist Radio” worn by the detective often referenced by bloggers talking about the science fiction-esque applications of wearable technology.
Sullivan argues that even though the messages you send and receive through Glide are asynchronous — and even though you won’t be able to record a video message from your wrist to respond to one that a friend recorded on his phone — the ability to view a video message and respond with an audio message (or a dictated text response) represents “a huge step toward the Dick Tracy paradigm.”
While it’s disappointing that there aren’t more Android Wear smartwatches that will enable users to take advantage of the added functionality, it’s a safe bet that more wearables are going to be equipped with speakers in the near future. That especially makes sense as manufacturers seek to build smartwatches that can function more independently of the smartphones that they’re paired with — a goal that, when achieved, will make it possible for you to step out of your apartment or leave the office for lunch without your smartphone in tow, while still keeping up with important messages and notifications from your wrist.