Google on Thursday unveiled the first major update to its Android Wear platform, adding numerous features as well as a fourth wearable device, Sony’s Smart Watch 3. With some new additions, Android Wear watches are becoming more self-contained devices rather than Bluetooth-tethered extensions of smartphones.
Android Wear added support for GPS sensors, letting users’ smart watches work more like sports watches. In other words, runners no longer need pockets for their phones if they want to track the details of their routes.
The updated Android Wear also adds the option of onboard music storage, again freeing up users’ hands when they want to listen to music. The device, however, will need to be paired with Bluetooth headphones or speakers since the watches don’t have headphone jacks. Included in the update is a new button called Play Music, and the screen that shows music that is currently playing has been updated with some new functionality.
We reached out to Jan Dawson, chief analyst for Utah-based Jackdaw Research, who told us the key to Android as a smartphone operating system has always been its ability to support a vast range of different form factors, features and manufacturers, and it looks like Google is taking the same approach with Android Wear.
"It's broadening the range of tasks that an Android Wear smart watch can perform, which makes good sense for helping its partners create a broad range of options," Dawson said. "This doesn't mean that every future Android Wear device will offer these features, though -- some will forgo GPS and local music storage for cost or size reasons, and we'll start to see more specialization by watch makers, whereas all the devices on the market to date have been fairly similar in terms of functionality, as general-purpose smart watches."
The Sony Smart Watch 3 went up for presale Thursday through Verizon and will be available on Google Play soon. It’s the first Android Wear watch to include a GPS sensor. The Smart Watch 3 costs $250 and is due to ship at the end of the month.
This is the first of a series of software updates that promise to fix Android Wear’s problems. Over the next year users will see Bluetooth headset pairing, better battery life, improved notifications, and refined voice recognition, David Singleton, the director of Android engineering, told the Wall Street Journal last month. Apart from the Bluetooth headset pairing function, the latest update doesn’t contain these refinements.
More to Come
Google previewed Android Wear back in March before launching the platform in July with two smart watches, the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live. The Motorola Moto 360 followed shortly thereafter. Owners of these smart watches should get the software update over the next few days.
Early adopters of smart watches are still waiting for custom watch faces, but those aren’t coming right away. In September, Google said an update with that feature would be available before the end of the year.
Google also says it will shore up the "discoverability" of Android Wear apps in Google Play with eight new categories of apps that have Android Wear features. These categories include Featured, Health & Fitness, Travel + Local, Social, Tools, Communication, Productivity, and More Apps.