Google is rolling out an Android Wear update that adds features for local music storage and on-board GPS tracking—two nifty tricks that will let you leave your smartphone at home when it’s time for that epic jog. I’ve just posted a how-to that explains how to use Android Wear’s offline music feature, but GPS tracking isn’t so accessible for now.
Announced in a Thursday blog post, Android Wear 4.4W.2 adds support for GPS tech built directly into watches. This will allow you to track data points like distance, speed, and mapping when you’re out for a run, all without packing along your cumbersome smartphone.
But there’s a critical gotcha: None of today’s three available Android Wear watches include hardware GPS. Nor is GPS available in the G Watch R, which will hit stores in early November. The first Android Wear watch that can take advantage of the new GPS feature is Sony’s Smartwatch 3, which is available for pre-order from Verizon and should ship within a week.
The other big feature is support for onboard music storage and Bluetooth headphone pairing, and this will be available to any watch that gets the Wear update. In a nutshell, you’ll be able to place music tracks directly in your watch’s onboard storage, and listen to that music directly through Bluetooth headphones paired with the watch. The practical upshot: You won’t have to bring your smartphone along for exercise sessions, and you won’t have any wires tethering your earbuds to your wrist.
All of today’s Android Wear watches come with 4GB of storage, though obviously, not all of that capacity will be available for music. The feature works well, but I haven’t yet had a chance to suss out offline music playback’s impact on battery life. Our Moto 360 loaner has already been updated to 4.4W.2. Ditto my G Watch R review unit. It’s not immediately clear in the Android Wear app (or watch interface) how to get music on the watch, so make sure to check out my how-to if you’re confused.
Google says owners of the LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live and Moto 360 will receive the Wear update in the “next few days.”
Why this matters: What have you done for me lately? That’s what every phone user asks of his or her mobile OS. And now that attitude applies to smartwatches as well. If you’re not constantly moving forward and iterating, you’re basically moving backward.
It’s critical for Google to prove that Android Wear is a vibrant, living, ever-maturing platform, and Thursday’s update underscores this point. And, of course, on a practical level, these new features help address a significant smartwatch pain point: That annoying reliance on direct smartphone pairing.