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Android Wear Smartwatches to Get Wi-Fi Support, Always-On Apps

Google adds new Android Wear smartwatch features to compete with the Apple Watch.

Google

Google today announced an update that will bring new features to its Android Wear smartwatches, including Wi-Fi support, the ability to draw emojis and gesture control.

The added functionality brings it more in line with some of the Apple Watch’s abilities, but Google doesn’t see them as me-too features.

For example, Android Wear users will now be able to reply to messages by drawing a response. But rather than sending the exact sketch like the Apple Watch, Android Wear translates them into a corresponding emoji.

So, let’s say you get a message from your significant other asking where you are. You can draw a house on your smartwatch’s touchscreen, and then Android Wear will convert it into a house emoji and send it as a reply.

Google

Google argues that this is more helpful than the Apple Watch — where drawing sketches feels more like a fun, frivolous feature — because it offers another way for people to answer messages when they can’t use voice dictation to compose a reply.

Android Wear is able to translate the sketches into emojis using a new handwriting recognition technology that Google introduced last week. The company said you don’t have to be a great artist for it to work. But I haven’t been able to test it myself, so I don’t know whether that’s true or not. Also, I’m not sure how much time that’s going to save versus just picking one of the available emojis from the watch, which you can also do.

Emoji drawings will be available on any app that supports voice replies, including text messages, hangouts and WhatsApp.

More useful is the added Wi-Fi support, which will offer flexibility in being able to use your watch without always having your smartphone nearby. Currently, Android Wear smartwatches communicate with Android smartphones over a Bluetooth connection, which has about a 30-foot range. Wi-Fi will greatly expand that.

As long as your watch is connected to a Wi-Fi network and your smartphone has a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, they’ll be able to talk to each other, even if your phone is at home and you’re at work. The watch will remember any Wi-Fi networks that you’ve logged onto from your phone (include password-protected networks). But if you’re trying to access a new network, that is one case where you would need to have your smartphone with you.

Finally, Google is introducing several new features to make it easier to access your information and apps from your smartwatch. One is always-on apps. This means an app will remain visible on your watch until you close it, not when you drop your arm. (In order to save battery life, the screen will only show full colors when you’re actively looking at the screen).

Always-on will come first to Google’s Maps and note-taking app Keep, but third-party developers can also add the feature to their apps.

Google

Also new is the ability to flick your wrist to see news and notifications. Rather than having to swipe through different screens, you can snap your wrist outward or inward to flip through your different cards.

Lastly, you’ll now be able to access your apps and contacts by swiping left on the screen.

The update is coming to all seven Android Wear smartwatches, starting with the new LG G Urbane which goes on sale April 24. Then it will roll out to the other models — the Moto 360, LG G Watch, LG G Watch R, Samsung Gear Live, Sony SmartWatch 3 and Asus ZenWatch — soon after. Google said it will release a more detailed timeline later.

When asked if Google is working on Android Wear support for iOS devices, a Google spokesperson said they had nothing to announce at this time.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.