Android Wear 1.4 Update Expands Hands-Free Functions

The latest version of Android Wear -- Wear 1.4 -- makes it possible to navigate smartwatches with new wrist gestures, and make calls thanks to added speaker support. The update is rolling out over the next few weeks.
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Owners of Android-based smartwatches can do more than ever, even when their hands are full. Google is pushing an update to smartwatches running Android Wear -- Android Wear 1.4. The refreshed wearable platform comes with several new features that make it easier for people to use without touching the watch.

To start, Google has added more gesture actions to Android Wear.

For example, flicking your wrist will scroll through the card stream on the watch. That's been available for some time. Now, a quick downward push of your arm will open the first action of the card being viewed, and a second push will select that action. A quick lift of your arm will reverse course back to the cards. Shaking your wrist a couple of times will exit any app and take you back to the home screen.

Google has expanded the number of messaging apps that work with voice actions, as well.

Android smartwatch owners can now say, "OK Google, send a WhatsApp message to so-and-so," and that's what the smartwatch will do. Apps such as Google Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp are all able to respond to voice actions for dictating and sending messages hands-free.

The third and final new function is broadened support for speakers. This is Android Wear's Dick Tracy moment. Thanks to speaker support, Android Wear owners can make and take calls over Bluetooth. Yes, that means talking to your smartwatch.

At the moment this function is limited to the Huawei Watch and the Asus ZenWatch 2 -- both of which have the necessary speakers. Google expects more Android Wear devices will add speakers, and the ability to make calls, over time.

[Read about the growth of the smartwatch market.]

Beyond making calls, speaker support means users will be able to listen to audio and video messages from their wrist. An app called Glide, for example, brings video messaging to Android Wear. Glide users with one of those two smartwatches can view and listen to video messages on their wrist. Glide users who have an Android watch without a speaker can still view video messages, even if they can't hear the audio.

Sadly, you can't yet record video messages from your wrist.

Google says Android Wear 1.4 is rolling out to Android Wear smartwatches over the next few weeks, so it may not show up immediately. Google says all Android-based smartwatches will receive the new features, including recently released wearables from Casio and Huawei.

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