Google expands hands-free functionality with new Android Wear update

Google is rolling out a new update for Android Wear smartwatches that fully enables the hardware already on your wrist.

(Image: Google)

Back in November, ZDNet's Kevin Tofel wrote about possible upcoming Android Wear updates that were found in a change log for version 1.4. It took a bit longer than thought, but Google announced several new hands-free options that bring some Apple Watch parity to Android Wear.

One of the reasons I prefer to use the Apple Watch is the ability to answer a call and carry out the conversation right on my wrist. This is useful while walking around the city with your phone in your pocket or backpack, while working around the house and using both hands, and occasionally while driving. The upcoming Android Wear update provides this same capability for those watches with integrated speakers, including the Huawei Watch and ASUS ZenWatch 2.

The complete list of hands-free options, as stated by Google, include:

  • Navigate your watch with new gestures: Scrolling up and down your card stream is as simple as flicking your wrist. Starting today you can also expand a card, bring up your apps, or return home to your watch face with a push, lift or shake. You'll be able to stay connected to what's important, while keeping your phone (or other hand) in your pocket.
  • Send more messages with just your voice: With Android Wear, you've always been able to get answers to spoken questions. Now you can also use your voice to send messages from apps like Google Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp. Running late for lunch? Just say "OK Google, Send a WhatsApp message to Nathan: I'll be right there."
  • Make calls and listen to messages with speaker support: Screening calls from your wrist is a nice convenience that comes with Android Wear. Thanks to speaker support, you can now make and take calls over Bluetooth. And you can listen to audio/video messages with apps like Glide. All you need is a watch with a speaker, which today includes the Huawei Watch and the ASUS ZenWatch 2 (49mm).

I personally have never used the gestures on Android Wear as I always found them to require over-exaggeration of wrist movements to function. It looks like gestures have been improved so I will have to give them a try again.

Millions no longer use text messaging, instead choosing to use messaging through other universal services. The update supports various message clients for hands-free messaging. The ability to make and receive calls over Bluetooth is fantastic and is one thing that always bugged me about Android Wear devices.

Are you excited about these new functions? What else would you like to see in an Android Wear update?