Android Wear Cuts Bluetooth Leash With Wi-Fi Support, Adds Wrist Gestures For Cards

If you’re at all interested in the wearables, things are really starting to get interesting as Apple has entered the fray with the Apple Watch and numerous vendors in the Android Wear camp release compelling designs to eager tech geeks. The wearables market is about to get even more competitive thank to a new software announcement by Google, which will bring perhaps the biggest single update to date for the Android Wear platform.

The biggest update, at least to my eyes, is the addition of Wi-Fi support. Like previous feature updates which added GPS and offline music support, Wi-Fi support will allow you to maintain a useable device without the short Bluetooth leash to your smartphone. The update will allow your smartwatch to hop onto a wireless network and as long as your smartphone, wherever it may be, has an active data connection (either via Wi-Fi or a cellular network), you will still be able to receive notifications, take phone calls, perform searches, send/receives messages, and use all of your apps.

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For those that have their smartphones attached to their hip 24-7-365, this may not seem like that big a deal. But for those that might want to go off for a run or workout without having a smartphone flopping around in their pocket, this could be a game changer. Your Android Wear device will also automatically scope out open Wi-Fi networks to make hopping online even easier.

It should be noted that many Android Wear smartwatches already have Wi-Fi hardware built-in; it’s just been disabled because it wasn’t supported in software. That functionality will now be enabled for the first time with this update.

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In an obvious shot at the Apple Watch, Google is touting Android Wear’s existing capability that allows smartwatches to have an always-on screen. However, that is now being extended to apps, which can stay visible on the screen for as long as you wish. In this mode, the app will display a simple black and white scheme to save battery life, but when a user lifts his or her wrist to actively look at the screen, it will automatically switch to a full color mode.

Another nifty new feature is the ability to “flick your wrist” in order view your notifications. There’s no need to tap or swipe on the screen, as the simple gesture is all you need to “scroll” through cards.

The final piece to the puzzle is the ability to draw emoji characters on the screen of your Android Wear device. Simply draw an emoji character (using your best Bob Ross impression) and the software will attempt to recognize which character you have drawn and insert it for you.

LG’s Watch Urbane will be the first device to receive the new update, and will filter down over-the-air (OTA) to all other Android Wear devices on the market over the coming weeks.