Google have today written that there is a new update coming for Android Wear including lots of new features. The update, which is Android Wear 5.1, includes a number of important new features such as always-on applications, WiFi connectivity, media browsing, wrist motion control and emoji input. Let’s take a look at these new features starting with always-on applications. Here, Google are allowing an application to keep the screen permanently on not too dissimilar to the ambient mode for the watch face. As you would expect from the title, it means that when a given application is running it can not only keep the screen but but also update the information: this means that those applications where it’s handy to have an updated display (such as running applications) or where it’s useful to have information showing, such as a shopping list or your airline flight information. Now if you are wondering about power consumption of the device when the screen is always on, there will be an impact but Google have considered this and will use a similar strategy to reduce power use as much as possible by processor and screen brightness management. In other words, the processor will be kept asleep as much as possible and the screen brightness, color saturation and refresh rate will be lowered.
The next change is one that many users are excited about: it will bring WiFi connectivity to our Android Wear devices, where the hardware supports it. The device will have the ability to connect to the same WiFi hotspots as the parent smartphone or tablet and the watch automatically connects to these WiFi networks when it loses the Bluetooth connection. Your watch doesn’t need to be connected to the same WiFi network as your ‘phone; it’ll receive the same notifications thanks to the Internet. Android Wear 5.1 includes support to allow a smartphone or tablet to support multiple Android Wear devices, for those of us lucky enough to have a work smartwatch, a play smartwatch or perhaps one for fitness tracking and outdoor activities. Our smartwatches are also gaining MediaBrowser support; this means users will be able to browse to the next song directly from the watch, for example, in a similar way to Android Auto.
There is some bad news for those of us who are using unofficial watch faces: support for these will be dropped after users install the over-the-air update to Android Wear 5.1. Google advises customers that these watch face designs should be updated to use the new watch face API. And this brings me to my final point: when is Android Wear 5.1 coming? Google reports that the roll out is starting now but it will take a few weeks for all devices to receive the update, with some people starting to receive it as early as yesterday and the day before.