It has been a while since Android Wear got any substantial updates, but today Google is announcing a big one. A new version of Wear will be rolling out over the coming weeks that includes a number of previously rumored features (like WiFi support) and some all new stuff (like always-on apps).


Most Wear devices use the always-on ambient mode for the watch face by default, the Moto 360 being a notable exception. The new Android Wear version allows apps to operate in ambient mode too, so they remain active when the watch goes to sleep. That makes it easier to take a quick glance at the app instead of waking the device up and opening the app all over again. The watch will still only go into full-color mode when necessary.

WiFi support is also coming in the update, which means your watch can be useful even if your phone isn't connected. Watches with WiFi support will be able to connect to WiFi and still get messages and notifications from your phone, provided it has an internet connection wherever it is.

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The watch face tap behavior is changing in this update too. Now you'll get three columns when you tap—apps, contacts, and voice search. You can still use the hot word to get voice search up immediately, though. When replying to messages, you have a new option to draw emoji, and the watch will figure out what you mean, or so Google claims. I don't know if I believe that, but it's a thing.


Finally, there's gesture scrolling in the new version of Wear. Simply flick your wrist to scroll through the stream. It's not clear if this will work in apps or just in the main Wear UI. You'll be able to use this and all the other new features on all Android Wear devices when the update hits. The rollout should be done in a few weeks, but you might be able to sideload before that. Google didn't say what version this would be, but I'd assume it's a 5.1 build of some sort.