Now that Android Wear 1.4 — packed with all that Marshmallow goodness — has started rolling out to more watches, there's no shortage of folks asking what makes the update worth getting excited over. Android Wear 1.4 didn't introduce any massive visual changes, and aside from adding permissions to apps the interface functions the same way.
Unless you're planning on using the newly-activated speaker (assuming your watch has one) the big benefit to this update isn't immediately clear. That's because the biggest feature in Android Wear 1.4 comes in the form of three new gestures you can use to better navigate your watch without having to tap the screen. Here's a quick look at how these new gestures work.
Push down to select
Android Wear already had nice gestures from scrolling up and down a list without using your fingers, but pushing down with your wrist will now select the card you're currently on and allow you to move on to the next option. This could be initiating a reply for a text message, expanding a text block to see the whole notification, opening an app, or just sliding over to settings from the home screen.
For emphasis, our demonstration uses a lot more force than is necessary, but it does require a deliberate gesture to activate. You're not likely to accidentally activate the feature by walking around or gesturing during a conversation, but at the same time it's easy enough to casually activate when you've got an arm full of groceries and need to reply to a message or open the app to unlock your front door.
Pull up to go back
Being able to push to select something only works if you have a way to return to the previous menu when you need to, and that's exactly what you do with the pull up gesture. No matter where you are in the interface, pulling up from your wrist will take you back one position. It's the exact opposite of the push gesture, and works consistently throughout the interface.
This gesture does not feel as as natural as the push gesture, requiring your arm to be at an odd position when you pull so you can continue to see the interface. You could certainly perform this gesture at your side if you were pausing to look at the interface while multitasking, but if your goal is to quickly navigate the interface with one hand, this gesture takes some getting used to.
Shake to return home
No matter where you are in the Android Wear interface, this last new gesture makes it easy to get back to the watch homescreen. You twist your wrist a few times (at least twice) in rapid succession, and on the last twist whatever app or menu or notification you are in will close and you'll be back on the home screen. This is a deliberate gesture, so you're unlikely to ever accidentally activate it even when being highly active.
This gesture is activated with little force, because the rapid back-and-forth is what makes the gesture command complete itself. It feels a little unusual at first, but if you're multitasking on your watch and need to quickly go from glancing at a conversation in Hangouts to an active task like turn-by-turn directions this gesture is perfect. It's quick and it gets the job done.
It's easy to forget that most smartwatch interfaces accidentally take up both of your limbs to complete, and Google's continued efforts in gesture controls creates a compelling alternative. Are you already adding these gestures to your daily interactions with Android Wear? Sound off in the comments!