Google announced several new features coming to Android, including quality of life updates, accessibility improvements and more.
The search giant’s original blog post detailed six new features, but The Verge noted that Google separately announced its Rich Communication Services (RCS) chat platform’s end-to-end (E2E) encryption was leaving beta. That brings the total new features up to seven.
Starting with Messages, Google added E2E encryption in beta back in November. Now, the company is turning on the feature for everyone with RCS. However, Google still restricts E2E encryption for RCS messages to one-on-one conversations, so group chats still don’t have encryption. Further, it only works when both participants in the conversation use Google’s Messages app.
It can be a bit confusing to keep all that straight — the best thing to do is keep an eye out for a lock icon when you message someone. Messages will add a lock icon to the send button when the message is encrypted.
The other big Messages feature Google announced is the ability to star a message. Starred messages appear in a special category, which makes it easy to find them without scrolling back through a conversation. Google says the feature will arrive “over the coming weeks.”
Contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions
Next up is a new feature for the Gboard keyboard. ‘Emoji Kitchen,’ the fun little Gboard tool that can combine multiple emoji into new creations, will soon offer contextual suggestions. In other words, Gboard can offer up emoji mashups based on what you type.
Contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions will appear in the Emoji menu for people writing in English, Spanish or Portuguese.
Google Assistant shortcuts are getting better
Back in October 2020, Google announced Assistant shortcuts, which let users open and search within apps using a ‘Hey Google’ command. It appears Google’s expanding this capability to more apps, and users can now say “Hey Google, shortcuts” to view a list of available shortcuts on their device.
You can learn more here.
Improvements to Voice Access
Android’s ‘Voice Access’ accessibility feature, which helps people navigate their smartphone using just their voice, is getting a few improvements. First up is ‘gaze detection,’ which will stop Voice Access from working if you’re not looking at your phone. It’s now available in beta.
Additionally, Google announced enhancements to password input with Voice Access. When Voice Access detects a password input field, it will let users input letters, numbers and symbols by voice.
More Android Auto customizations
Google detailed improvements coming to Android Auto as well. Users will have more personalization options and will be able to manually set dark mode. There are also new tabs in media apps for browsing content, a ‘back to top’ option and an ‘A to Z’ button in the scroll bar. Google says first-time Android Auto users will be able to get started faster as well.
Along with those updates, Google says it added new app experiences. EV charging, parking and navigation apps are now available to use in Android Auto and Google improved the messaging experience. Users can now access messaging apps from the launcher screen and easily read and send new messages directly from apps like WhatsApp and Messages. Google says this improvement is now available globally.
Android Earthquake Alerta come to more countries, but not Canada
Google’s phone-based earthquake detection and alert system, which uses a network of Android devices to detect and warn people potentially in affected areas, will come to more countries. It originally launched in California before expanding to Greece and New Zealand in April. Now it’s coming to Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The search giant plans to bring the feature to more regions over the next year, but will focus on bringing it to countries with a high risk of earthquakes first.