Big Android Wear update brings Wi-Fi, gestures and emojis

You can now draw emojis on Android Wear. Photo: Google

You can now draw emojis on Android Wear. Photo: Google

Google is rolling out a massive Android Wear update that hopes to greatly improve the way we use our smartwatches. It finally brings support for Wi-Fi and a new app launcher, and also adds gestures, the ability to draw emojis, and more.

“Individually, these changes are small, but collectively, they promise to make even year-old hardware seem new,” reports The Verge, which has been speaking to Jeff Chang, Google’s lead product manager for Android Wear.

One of the most useful improvements is support for Wi-Fi, which allows your Wear watch to connect to your smartphone beyond Bluetooth’s limited range. No matter what Wi-Fi network your watch is connected to, it’ll stay in sync with your phone through Google’s cloud services.

That means that when you’re away from your phone, your watch will still receive notifications for incoming calls, text messages, emails, and everything else you have set up — so long as it’s connected to a Wi-Fi network.

In addition, you’ll be able to send data back to your phone, so you can still make voice notes, reply to messages using your voice, and create alarms and reminders.

The ability to use Wi-Fi networks is one of the features that previously gave the Apple Watch an upper hand over Android Wear, but before Apple’s first wearable even arrives in buyers’ hands, Google has matched it.

Most Wear watches have Wi-Fi built in, but Google just hasn’t taken advantage of that until now. Chances are your device is already equipped for this, then, so you shouldn’t need to upgrade it.

Other useful changes include a new low-power mode that now works with apps as well as watch faces — allowing you to display things like to-do lists, fitness data, and maps at all times — and a new gesture system that makes using your device a lot easier.

Wear's new low-power mode works with apps as well as watch faces. Photo: Google

Wear’s new low-power mode works with apps as well as watch faces. Photo: Google

Without touching your watch’s display, you can now scroll through notifications by flicking your wrist away from you. Flick towards you and you can go back through notifications you’ve already seen.

The other big feature coming in this update is the ability to draw emojis. Rather than giving you an emoji keyboard that would be difficult to use on a small display, Google is allowing you to draw things like smiley faces and hands that will then turn into emojis.

Emoji support will make sending short, sweet replies to text messages a great deal easier — especially when you’re in a noisy environment and you cannot use your voice.

Google’s update will be available on the new LG Watch Urbane first, which will have it pre-installed out of the box. “Other Android Wear devices will get it as a part of an update that’s rolling out beginning next month,” The Verge reports.