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This Android Wear Update Turns Your Device Into The Dick Tracy Watch

New speaker support in the OS makes smartwatch video messaging apps like Glide far more compelling.

This Android Wear Update Turns Your Device Into The Dick Tracy Watch
[Photo: courtesy of Android Wear]

Google is adding speaker support in a new update to its smartwatch OS, Android Wear, which will make Android watches act a lot more like the fabled "2-way Wrist Radio" worn by Dick Tracy.

Android Wear already supports some voice commands, but the update lets watch wearers make and take phone calls from the wrist. The calls are sent or received via the paired phone's cellular radio, and conveyed to the watch over a Bluetooth link.

The new speaker support is great news for messaging apps like Glide.

Glide’s app does video messaging on iOS and Android smartphones and smartwatches. The messages are asynchronous, meaning that one user records a video message and sends it to a friend—it's not real time as in a FaceTime chat. However, the friend can start watching the video shortly after the recording has started. So it's very close to real time.

With speaker support in Android Wear, people who use Glide on the wrist can watch video messages (with sound) sent from friends using the Glide app on a smartphone. Because Android smartwatches don’t yet have cameras, they can't yet respond in kind but they can respond with an audio message that they speak into their watch (they can also respond with a dictated text or an emoji).

Image: Sony Wonder via Wikimedia Commons

And that's a huge step toward the Dick Tracy paradigm.

"This is what TV shows and movies have been imagining for the past half century," says Glide CEO Ari Roisman. "It’s Dick Tracy, the Jetsons, Inspector Gadget, Star Wars, and James Bond."

"Glide is making science fiction a reality by delivering live video messaging to Android Wear," Roisman said.

The Dick Tracy 2-Way Wrist Radio made its first appearance in a strip published January 13, 1946. Later on in 1964 the Wrist Radio became a Wrist TV, which is what Glide on the smartwatch feels like.

The Glide app works on the watch very much like it does on the phone. Messages can be viewed within a chat stream. They can be paused. The profile pictures of the most recently used contacts are displayed horizontally across one of the opening screens, and a tap on one sends the user into the ongoing conversation with that user. If a Glide message notification displays on the screen, the user can tap to respond from the notification center.

Unfortunately, of the 17 kinds of Android Wear smartwatches on the market today, only two already contain a speaker—the Huawei Watch and the 49mm ASUS ZenWatch 2. But it’s a safe bet that speakers will be built into more smartwatches, especially as watches become more independent of their paired smartphones.

The update enables some other handy tricks.

Android Wear already lets users speak questions to their device, but the new update lets them speak to send messages from apps like Google Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp. Example: "OK Google, Send a WhatsApp message to Nathan: I’ll be right there."

The update also adds support for a couple of new wrist gestures. The OS is set up as a set of "cards" for various apps or functions. Users can now expand a card, bring up their apps, or return to the watch face with a push, lift, or shake of the wrist.

Google says the update is rolling out to all Android Wear watches over the next few weeks.

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