Android Wear is reportedly getting some updates that will help it mirror or offer alternatives to some of the big wearable advantages Apple has made available on the new Apple Watch, including input and connectivity tweaks. The Verge reports that Google is planning to bring Wi-Fi support and gesture control to Android Wear, as well as UI changes that make apps easier to find and open without using voice commands or having to dig through multiple layers of menus.
The report, which Google declined to comment on, saying only that the team is “hard at work” but that they have nothing to share at this time, seems almost impossibly convenient in terms of time and content as an answer to what Apple revealed about its new wearable at Monday’s special event. To wit – the features described for the update would allow Android Wear devices to connect to Wi-Fi, which the Apple Watch can do; navigate through lists and notifications without using your finger to block the screen, which the Apple Watch can do; and to more easily access apps installed on the watch, which the Apple Watch can do.
It fits perfectly with Android Wear’s overall product strategy to introduce these updates in the near future (at Google I/O in May, perhaps?) since the OS has seemed from the start like a work-in-progress, an experiment run Google-style in the wide laboratory of the world. Plenty of OEMs have signed on to make Android Wear devices, but it has been a learning process, with things like software customization and features like GPS support meted out in increments by Google in regular platform updates.
Wi-Fi should actually work backwards with many existing devices, since hardware like the Moto 360 and Sony SmartWatch 3, for instance, already support its use. It will allow features like notifications and Google Now to operate without a Bluetooth connection to a paired device. Apple’s use of Wi-Fi allows the Apple Watch to communicate with its paired iPhone when both are on the same local wireless network, but not within Bluetooth range or with Bluetooth turned off on the iPhone, at least in the current version of the software.
The digital crown on the Apple Watch allows you to scroll without obscuring content, both between glances and vertically when there’s a waterfall of content. Android Wear is designed for touch-based use, and some hardware designs don’t even offer any means of physical input in the form of a simple button. Gestures could help alleviate the problem, but without a look at how they might work in practice, it’s hard to see that beating the smooth, natural mechanics of the digital crown.
Wearables trying to keep pace with and outdo each other will likely become the new normal once the Apple Watch hits the market on April 24, so expect more frequent (and possibly more ambitious) Android Wear updates to come.