Android Wear gets always-on apps, Wi-Fi support

The Apple Watch might be the biggest news in wearables when it officially launches this Friday, but Google isn't standing idly by in the meantime. Today, the company announced a major update to its Android Wear operating system with some pretty interesting-looking features.

Images: Google

The first major change is the extension of always-on watch faces to apps. Google showcased a couple different concepts for this feature, like a Maps face and a persistent to-do list. So that apps don't eat up battery life, the screen switches to a minimal black-and-white mode when the device detects it's not in a viewable position.

Android Wear devices with Wi-Fi onboard can now connect to wireless networks independently of an Android phone or tablet, too. Google says that it's now possible to get notifications, send messages, and use Android Wear apps without being near your phone—at least, so long as the phone has a data connection of some kind.  You can also find your phone simply by asking your watch where it is. Neat.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Wear devices can now accept hand-drawn emoji in a manner similar to the Handwriting Input app we covered a couple of days ago. Those with no time for a text message can sketch an emoji right on the watch face and send then it as a Hangouts or text message.

The Android Wear update should roll out to all Wear devices over the next few weeks.

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