8 Android Wear tweaks that Google should steal from third-party apps

android wear volume

While Android Wear shows some flashes of brilliance in delivering actionable notifications to your wrist, the OS is still pretty rough around the edges.

Ideally, Google will get around to adding features and fixing questionable design decisions in the coming months and years. But in the meantime, a handful of third-party tweaks can make Android Wear just a bit better. Here's what we'd ultimately like to see from Google's wearable OS, along with some improvements you can make today:

Get alerts when you forget your phone

findmyphone android wear

Find My Phone helps prevent the awkwardness of leaving the house with your watch on your wrist, but your phone on the table.

For anyone who tends to forget his or her phone while running out the door, the smartwatch can be a lifesaver by sending an alert when the phone drops out of Bluetooth range.

What you can do: Several third-party apps provide this feature already, including Find My Phone. For added security, this one from Vimo Labs takes the extra step of locking your phone when it loses the Bluetooth signal.

What Google should do: Building this functionality into Android Wear would be better than making users sift through a half-dozen similar apps, and Google could even go a step further by caching the phone's last known coordinates on the watch.

Always answer calls on loudspeaker

wearspeaker android wear

Wear Speaker turns on your phone's speaker phone function.

Android Wear isn't doing you any favors by letting you answer phone calls from your wrist. With no speaker on the watch, and no way to turn on your phone's speaker remotely, you might as well just pick up the phone yourself.

What you can do: With Wear Speaker, you can have your phone's speaker switch on automatically whenever you answer a call from the smartwatch. It's helpful if your hands aren't free, or your phone is just out of reach.

What Google should do: Having a speakerphone button built directly into the call dialog would be nice, but adding call functionality to the watch itself would be even better.

Prevent truncated notifications

wearnotificationimprover android wear

 WearNotification Improver lets you expand notifications in apps that haven't already been optimized for longer text blocks.

In a perfect world, all app notifications would work flawlessly on Android Wear out of the box. But until more developers optimize their code, some apps will give you truncated messages. (We're looking at you, HipChat.)

What you can do: An app called WearNotification Improver can whitelist unsupported apps, letting you expand each notification to show more information. It's not as good as full-blown Wear support, but it'll do.

What Google should do: If it's already possible to make notifications look better out of the box, why doesn't Android Wear do so on its own? Perhaps Google wants to encourage stronger developer support, but at some point it might make sense to improve the baseline experience for unsupported apps.

Remotely toggle the phone's ringer

notificationtoggle android wear

Notification Toggle gives you greater control over phone muting.

While Android Wear lets you “mute” watch notifications by swiping down on the screen, this doesn't actually mute your phone. You'll still get plenty of buzzing and beeping unless you take your phone out and put it on silent.

What you can do: Install Notification Toggle, and set up the sound/vibration toggle (along with any others you might want to trigger remotely). The “Start toggles” voice command will give you quick access, or you can choose “Always show” from the “More Options” section of the app.

What Google should do: Instead of just muting watch notifications, a downward swipe ought to mute the phone as well. It's unclear why you'd want one of these functions without the other.

Turn off the watch's screen at night

slumber android wear

Slumber sets everything to black when you're topping off your battery.

While it's nice that the Moto X and other Android Wear watches can double as clocks for your nightstand, not everyone wants another light shining in their faces when they're trying to sleep. Yet strangely, there's no way to turn off the screen without shutting down the device itself.

What you can do: A third-party app called Slumber lets you turn the screen to black whenever the device is charging. Just be aware that the app won't work unless you've launched it at least once.

What Google should do: A black screen isn't as good as a screen that's completely off. How about letting us turn off the display by hitting the power button while the device is charging?

Connect to more than one device

beelink android wear

BeeLink lets you pair with a second device for more control over music playback (among other things).

One of Android Wear's smartest features is its ability to recognize when you're playing music or Chromecasting, and put the controls on your wrist. But if you're doing so from a tablet instead of your phone, the watch won't recognize it.

What you can do: With BeeLink, you can pair an Android Wear watch to more than one Android device. It's not as seamless as it could be—to connect with a second device, you must sever the connection on the first device—but it shows a glimpse of what's possible.

What Google should do: Let Android Wear pair with more than one device at a time, or at least allow certain types of uses—such as music and video controls—from the secondary device.

Change the volume of music playback

volumecontrol android wear

Wear Volume Control fulfills the promise of its name.

Android Wear already lets you pause, rewind and fast forward from the watch, but you still need to pull out your phone to adjust the volume.

What you can do: Just install Wear Volume Control, and you'll get a notification whenever your phone starts playing music. Tapping on it brings up a ring-shaped slider to change your phone's volume.

What Google should do: Instead of creating a separate notification, Android Wear's existing music controls should have a volume button built in.

Lock the screen when you're swimming

showear android wear

Showear blocks unwanted touch triggers, like water droplets.

All current Android Wear watches are water resistant, but that doesn't stop them from acting strangely when you're out for a swim. Too often, water droplets register as touches on the screen, triggering the voice command prompt and engaging with notifications at random.

What you can do: A third-party app called Showear lets you temporarily block unwanted screen touches by setting up a lock screen pattern of your choice.

What Google should do: It'd be nice of Android Wear could detect water-like touches on its own, or at least build in a temporary screen lock option. We're thinking some kind of water icon or overlay that comes up automatically, and is “dried” away with a few quick shakes of the wrist.

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