Android Wear Update Brings Marshmallow Features

The wearable OS now supports phone calls, dictation, and a host of improvements

Moto 360 (2nd gen) Design Choices
Moto 360 (2nd gen) Design Choices.

After much anticipation, Android Wear's latest update (version 1.4), which includes Android Marshmallow 6.0, is now rolling out to wearable devices. The biggest news here, is support for making and receiving phones calls right from your wrist, like Dick Tracy. There's a catch, of course: your smartwatch must have a built-in speaker, a feature currently found only on the Huawei smart watch, and the Asus Zenwatch 2 (49mm version).

Expect to see more smart watches with speakers in the coming months.

If you have a different smart watch, such as the Moto 360 2nd generation, you can still take advantage of the other upgrades to Android Wear. First, there's an improvement to voice commands. When dictating messages, you can now name check the service you want to use. Google currently supports Google Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp.

Next, there are a few new gesture controls; you can view them as demonstrated by a series of Drake GIFs, if you dare. I haven't had much luck with previous gestures; often, I don't get a response even after several attempts and uncomfortable contortions. (OK, that last part might be redundant, but I hope you know what I mean.) When my watch gets the update, I'm interested to see if the new gestures work out any better for me.

Other enhancements include the Doze feature, which works in the background to conserve battery life, improved speed, faster screen dimming (which also saves battery life, but could become annoying too).

As on your smartphone or tablet, you can also easily allow or block specific app permissions when you download a new app, rather than the previous all or nothing approach. You can also view app permissions in the settings app. Finally, you'll also see Google's redesigned logo in the Wear interface.

Last Year's News?

In November 2015, LG announced that it was cancelling the roll out of its Watch Urbane 2nd Edition, which would have been the first Android Wear device to offer cellular connectivity. This would have meant that the device wouldn't have to be tethered to a smartphone, which would mean a huge step forward for the wearable category. Your smart watch could actually take the place of your smartphone, rising from its status as an accessory. LG eventually cited issues with the device's display as the reason for the cancellation. There's no word yet on when the Urbane 2nd Edition could hit the market.

Manufacturer Updates

It's not just Google that's rolling out updates. Motorola has built a new version of its Moto Body fitness app for the Moto 360 2nd Edition, which can now be connected with third-party apps, such as Strava or Fitbit. (As a Fitbit user, I'm excited about that.) It also adds new app permissions and six new languages. Other Android smart watch makers have yet to announced updates, including Asus, Huawei, LG, and Samsung.

So, when will your watch receive the Android Wear update? As usual, Google is at the mercy of the manufacturers, so there's no way to know exactly when it will be pushed to your device.

I should be receiving the software update any day now on my Moto 360 2nd generation. Stay tuned.

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