In many ways, Android Wear, with its card-based Google Now interface, is the simplest of the big three smartwatch platforms (a group that also includes Apple's watchOS and Samsung's Tizen for wearables). An update will be rolling out soon, though, that adds a few extra perks to Google's smartwatch OS.
Soon Android Wear watches with built-in speakers – right now that only includes the Huawei Watch and Asus ZenWatch 2 – will let you make phone calls right on the watch, something the Apple Watch and 3G-enabled Gear S2 (as well as some older Samsung watches) already do. The update will also use that speaker to let the watch read incoming messages out loud.
The LTE-enabled LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition was going to be the first Wear watch to support on-watch calls, back in November of 2015, but hardware issues led to LG cancelling and recalling the product. Unlike that cancelled watch, the Huawei Watch and ZenWatch 2 lack built-in cellular, so they'll still need to be connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth to take or make calls.
The upcoming Wear update will also make it quicker and easier to send voice messages through third-party chat apps, like WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber, Telegram and Nextplus, in addition to Google's Hangouts. For example, you'll be able to say "OK Google, send a WhatsApp message to Jill: I'm running late." Sending messages with your voice has been part of Android Wear since day one, but this will be the first time it will give you the option of routing a brand new message through something other than text messaging.
Google is also expanding Wear's hands-free gesture capabilities, adding new ones it had promised in late 2015. That includes things like seeing more details or taking an action on a card (by pushing your wrist away from you), going back to the previous screen (by pulling your wrist towards you) and returning to the main watch face (by shaking your wrist). Google's OS is the only one of the big three smartwatch platforms that gives you the option of using wrist gestures – handy for when one of your hands is full.
Google says the update will start rolling out to Wear watches in the next few weeks. Since smartwatch OEMs can't customize Android Wear like they can Android on smartphones and tablets (a practice that lengthens and complicates the update process), the Wear update's timing should be within the same general window for all recent Wear watches.
See the stories that matter in your inbox every morning