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Android Wear - Always on apps and call an Uber by voice

Seth Barton
29 May 2015
Android wear uber app
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Google outlined its new features for Android Wear at its IO 2015 keynote

The Apple Watch may have taken the headlines of late, but you need an iPhone to use one. That means Google can be pretty confident that there’s a big future for its Android Wear platform, with over one billion active Android users out there who may, one day, want to buy a smartwatch.

At its Google IO 2015 event, the company outlined the latest features of the wearable operating system. Once again this was all about watches, and though we’d like to see some developments beyond the wrist, it’s timepieces that dominate for now.

Android wear apps

Google has taken the idea of the traditional watch to heart with its latest release, rolling out over the next few weeks. It described reading the time on a normal watch as ‘glanceable, actionable and effortless’ and wants our other interactions with a smartwatch to be the same. To that end there’s now ‘Always On Apps’ which keeps app information onscreen, so you glance at it, without having to wake up the watch.#

Google showed examples such as a shopping list, or turn-by-turn directions. The apps stay onscreen in a low-power display mode. Now this is bound to impact battery life to some extent, but you won’t be using it all the time, and it looks very useful.

Android Wear always on app shopping list

There were some good new app demos too. A FourSquare app that provides menu recommendations based on other’s opinions when you enter a restaurant, a Citymapper app that provides information on your next train for as long as you need it (but not longer), and an Uber app that lets call up a car with a voice command and track its inbound journey to you on the watch screen. There’s also a new Spotify app that lets you browse music, as well as control playback.

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Less convincing was the addition of gesture control, with a quick twist of the wrist scrolling up and down through notifications. It looks a little clunky, but if your other hand isn’t free - say you’re wrestling a toddler, or hanging off a mountain - then it could be very handy indeed (sorry).

It’s also added a messaging function that lets you sketch out Emoji and then add them to your messages. This looks like a weak attempt to counter Apple’s Digital Touch. There’s also a new launcher but we didn’t really see much of it. We’ll bring you more details as we get them, which should be later today.

Google sounded confident that the new version of Android Wear will be rolling out to older devices too, so everyone should benefit from this update soon - although we’re still waiting for the last update on our Moto 360. It was also keen to point out that developers will have full access to the increasing range of tech in smartwatches, including fitness tracking, microphones and more, to make the best apps possible.

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