With the latest update to Google Maps on your phone, Android Wear gains some mapping functionality.
After updating to Google Maps version 9.9 on your phone — which brings a neat new transparent status bar and some navigation features — you may notice that there's an actual Google Maps app on your connected Android Wear watch as well. The launcher icon for Maps showed up on our LG Watch Urbane (which of course has the latest version of Android Wear) after simply re-syncing apps after the latest phone app install, and though it appeared to be broken at first, a couple of reboots later and we had a surprisingly full-featured Maps app ... on our watch.
The app can be launched from the app launcher or by voice with an "open Maps" command, and when opened you get a full screen top-down map experience. You can scroll around, pinch-to-zoom (barely) and even switch between true North and device direction views. Zoom in/out buttons appear on the top of the screen when you tap it, which is much better than pinching, and you also get a small pin button that lets you quickly scroll through nearby places and navigate to them — though when you fire up navigation from the Maps app on the watch it still corresponds with launching Maps on your phone.
There's even a neat feature that gives you a simple black and white outline map when the watch doesn't receive interaction for while, just like the ambient watch faces do.
Aside from the handful of reboots of our phone and watch that were necessary just to get it to run, the app still seems rather unstable. Several times in just a few minutes of playing with the app it has failed to respond or open up navigation properly — we have a feeling that this isn't quite ready without a new version of Google Play Services or potentially a new version of Android Wear on the watch. The only way to exit the Maps app is to press the side hardware button as well, which would cause troubles for other devices out there that don't have the physical button. We'll have to see how that's handled when it arrives on other devices.
But even when it is working, a bigger question can be raised about how useful a dedicated Google Maps app on Android Wear really is. While it's neat to see so much functionality jammed into a tiny screen on your wrist, it's pretty difficult to use and rather limited when compared to Google Maps on a phone.