Alongside this month’s reveal of the new Samsung Galaxy Watch 5, Google quietly announced that smartwatches running its Wear OS operating system will soon provide navigation without being connected to a phone.
Currently, Wear OS smartwatches can show navigation instructions, but these are fed from a Bluetooth-connected smartphone nearby and appear more like notifications than an experience entirely run on, and delivered by, the watch itself.
It looks like this is about to change though, as Google said at the Samsung Unpacked event earlier in August how it’ll soon be possible for Wear OS watches to run Google Maps without a smartphone connection.
Referred to as offline navigation, this will likely see the smartwatch use a combination of its own GPS and downloaded mapping data to provide instructions. That way, users should be able to set up a route on their phone (or watch when connected to a phone), then once the route is loaded up and ready to go, they can set off without the phone.
This function has fairly limited use cases, but we can see it being useful when you want to go on a hike or bike ride in a new location, such as while on holiday, without having your phone with you. For watches with their own internet connection via LTE, the process should be simpler still, loading up and delivering navigation instructions with no phone at all.
Google said the feature will be available later this year, without giving a specific date.
Google hasn’t said which wearables will support offline mapping, or what the technical requirements are. We suspect the feature will arrive on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 first, given it was announced at the reveal of the new smartwatch. Or, it could debut on Google’s own Pixel Watch, which is due out in the autumn.