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Google Enhances Android Wear

Google's first major update to its Android Wear platform helps devices rely less on smartphones.
Wearables At Work: 7 Productivity Apps
Wearables At Work: 7 Productivity Apps
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Google has pushed a system update to Android Wear devices just as two more wearables head to the market. With new features, new apps, and new hardware in tow, Android Wear is slowly developing its foundation ahead of the arrival of the Apple Watch.

The updated Android Wear operating system introduces two key features, both of which grant Wear devices and their owners a new level of freedom. First, GPS. Fitness-minded Android Wear owners can now take to the streets for a jog or bike ride without their smartphones. Prior to the update, Android Wear required a smartphone for exercise-tracking features. Now, Android Wear devices that have embedded GPS sensors can log runs, walks, and other exercise independent from smartphones. Smartphones don't belong everywhere, and it's often preferable to take in some exercise without one along.

Second, Android Wear devices are now capable of playing back locally stored music files. Before the update, Android Wear could only be used to control playback of music stored on a nearby smartphone. Once the update is installed, Android Wear owners will be able to load up some tunes and listen to them via Bluetooth even if their smartphones are elsewhere. Most current Android Wear devices are limited to just 4 GB of internal storage, so don't expect to be able to carry your entire library on your wrist.

These are welcome improvements to Google's wearable platform, indeed. The Moto 360, Samsung Gear Live, and LG G Watch can all take advantage of the system update in the days ahead.

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If you haven't picked up an Android Wear smartwatch yet, two new options are finally ready for purchasing. The LG G Watch R and the Sony Smart Watch 3 have arrived. Each was announced earlier this year. The Sony Smart Watch 3 can be preordered from Verizon Wireless for $250. Google said the Smart Watch 3 will be available from the Play Store in the near future. The same is true of the LG G Watch R. The R, like the Moto 360, is round. The Sony and Samsung devices are square.

Smartwatches aren't so smart without apps. According to Google, developers have added Android Wear support to tens of thousands apps. In order to help Wear owners discover apps for their wearables, Google rolled out eight new app collections in the Google Play Store. With apps called out in categories such as health and fitness, travel, and others, it should be quicker to find those that work on both smartphones and smartwatches.

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