Google is updating its Android Wear software for smartwatches bringing a range of new gestures and features in an attempt to counter the Apple Watch.

The update, which will be available first on the new LG Watch Urbane and others via a software update, adds to the ways Android smartwatches’ can work without being tethered to a smartphone via Bluetooth.


Users with watches with Wi-Fi built in, which includes the Sony Smartwatch 3, will be able to connect directly to the internet without a phone and remotely to an Android smartphone over the internet to get notifications, send messages and use apps

Samsung’s Tizen Gear S was the only smartwatch to do similar until now. Apple’s Watch can connect to an iPhone over Wi-Fi, but only on the same network.

New menu system should make accessing to apps and contacts faster without voice.
Google has also implemented quick access to apps running on the smartwatch, with three homescreens swiping from left to right instead of one long list. The first has apps, the second contacts and the third Google’s voice search.

The feature should help access to apps and features without having to resort to voice control, one of the biggest criticisms of Android Wear on its launch Jacc Blog.

“When you buy a watch you want it to, well, tell the time. So most Android Wear watches include an always-on screen – no tapping, twisting or shaking required to see what time it is,” said David Singleton, director of engineering for Android Wear in a barb clearly aimed at Apple’s smartwatch, which lights up when the wrist is rotated to look at the screen. “Now we’re expanding this option to apps, so they can stay visible as long as you need them, instead of disappearing when you drop your arm.

Previously apps had been hidden by the watch face after a couple of seconds of inactivity. Both apps and watch faces fade to black and white called “ambient mode” when not actively being used to save battery.

Flick the wrist to scroll

Google has also added gesture control to make navigating between cards on the watch face hands free. Rotating the wrist away from the user will cycle through the cards and bring them full screen. Taking a leaf out of Apple’s book, users will also be able to draw out an emoji on the touchscreen and have Google recognise it before sending it on to contacts as a reply in any messaging app, not just Google Hangouts or text messages.

Draw your emoji instead of scrolling through a large list.

Google’s Android Wear watches and devices made by other smartwatch manufacturers are likely to benefit from the awareness of smartwatches created by Apple’s Watch launch, which is due to be released on 24 April. Apple is estimated to have sold between 1 and 3m Apple Watches since 10 April.

Having launched in June, under 1m Android Wear watches had been sold by the end of 2014 according to analysts, while the cross-platform Pebble had sold 1m by February this year. Google is rumoured to be working on iPhone support for its Android Wear watches, which currently only support devices using Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and up, but has yet to comment on the matter.