Android Wear is getting its first big update, with features that make smartwatches using Google’s wearable operating system more standalone devices, including music syncing and GPS location support. That means if you leave your watch at home while you go out for a jog, you’ve still got access to sweet jams, and your watch can still tell you where you are, and how to get home.
The GPS features will work so long as an Android Wear device has the necessary hardware, which means no current shipping Android Wear watch can take advantage of them yet. The first Wear-powered smartwatch coming to market with GPS support is the Sony SmartWatch 3, which is up for pre-order starting today at Verizon’s website, and which lists a shipping date of October 30. Google says it’ll start selling the SmartWatch 3 via the Play Devices store soon, too.
Offline music storage is a feature that everyone can enjoy, and it’s also bundled with support for audio Bluetooth accessory connections. That means you can take your wireless headphones with you when you hit the trail, and your tunes, and leave your phone behind. Those features require the updated version of Google Play Music to work, but that’s also now available for download.
Google is also doing a discovery push to help surface more Android Wear software to users. It introduced eight new app collections to make the process of finding software for your wearable easier, and these include Health & Fitness, Travel + Local, Tools, and more. A breakdown of apps by category is a sure sign of maturation for any software marketplace, which means that either the volume of apps has increased enough to warrant a need for this, or a desire on Google’s part to make discovery easier in order to spark downloads. Likely, both are motivating factors.
This Android Wear update was promised by Google back in September, alongside official support for developer-created watch faces, which is still coming at a later date in a separate update. Even though both were already on the roadmap, there’s no question that adding as many features as possible to Android Wear ahead of a competing platform launch from a certain fruit-logo’d competitor is very much to Google’s benefit, and to the benefit of Android in general.
Apple’s Watch platform will support activity tracking and workout data, but it won’t have dedicated GPS built-in, and statements on Apple’s website specify it using your iPhone GPS and Wi-Fi connections to track your distance moved. The Apple Watch will be able to store music on your watch for play independent of the iPhone, however, and will be able to connect to a Bluetooth headset, as revealed by Apple CEO Tim Cook in an interview with Charlie Rose from September.
Android Wear updates like this one will help Google turn the platform into a better draw both for hardware partners and for consumers, and the ‘iterate-in-public’ approach could help existing Wear device owners feel like they’re getting device upgrades without additional investment.
If you’ve got an Android Wear device currently, Google says the update should be rolling out to Moto 360, LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live hardware soon, so keep an eye out for a software update notification card on your wrist in the near future.
Image credit: Greg Kumparak