Signs of Android Wear fragmentation: No Wi-Fi for some smartwatches

Not all Android Wear smartwatches are equal
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We're seeing more signs of Android Wear fragmentation as the wearable OS gets a big update for 2015.

Asus has confirmed to Wareable that the ZenWatch will be getting the update, which includes always-on apps and gesture controls, but it won't support the new Wi-Fi feature that allows you to leave your smartphone at home and access notifications on your smartwatch via other Wi-Fi networks.

Update: Wear OS complete guide

The ZenWatch, one of the best-looking smartwatches we've tested, doesn't have Wi-Fi capabilities so it won't work if your phone and smartwatch are connected to two different networks.

The likes of the G Watch Urbane and Sony Smartwatch 3 will soon be able to receive alerts via Wi-Fi when you're out and about as long as your smartphone, wherever it is, has a data or Wi-Fi connection.

Your phone will be required to join new networks for the first time, though, so heading out with just your smartwatch will only work if you're planning to connect to familiar networks.

The original LG G Watch doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi so will also be left out of the new feature but it has since been replaced in the line-up. Phandroid is reporting that the G Watch R will also not get Wi-Fi support and we've contacted LG to confirm this.

Be together, not the same

We've seen some Android Wear fragmentation before - Sony's SmartWatch 3 has the advantage of built-in GPS, for instance, unlike rivals from the first set of 2014 launches such as the Moto 360 and G Watch R. Wi-Fi support is now added to the list of considerations when choosing which Android Wear smartwatch is best for you.

As the Android Wear tagline - be together, not the same - used in its ads suggests, Google's original plan for a unified, reliable Wear experience across all devices hasn't turned out the way it expected. To achieve this, Google would have to issue strict hardware guidelines that take into account future software updates such as this latest one including Wi-Fi support.

Manufacturers haven't been able to add skins to the OS either; instead they have been restricted to adding some differentiation via watch faces and companion apps. Some smartwatch makers including Samsung have been abandoning Android Wear, for now, to experiment with other operating systems such as Tizen.

Ultimately, it seems the tech giants building Android Wear hardware want to offer more customisation and personalisation than first party straps and watch faces.

Google might want to standardise the Wear experience but the smartwatches running on its OS already have different components, screen shapes, target buyers and prices.

UPDATE: This article originally incorrectly stated that the ZenWatch would connect to your smartphone if on the same Wi-Fi network. Asus has since clarified that this is not true.

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Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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