UPDATED 12:00 EST / SEPTEMBER 23 2021

APPS

New accessibility and auto capabilities top Android’s fall feature list

Google LLC’s Android team today unveiled a long list of features that will be coming to the Android operating system this fall, topped by new ways to control a smartphone with facial gestures and a bunch of car-related features that promise to help out with navigation and keep passengers entertained.

In a blog post, Android Group Product Manager Angana Ghosh revealed the coming availability of two new accessibility features that will arrive on Android smartphones imminently. Camera Switches is a feature within the Android Accessibility Suite that effectively transforms a phone’s front-facing camera into a new input medium, so users can navigate the phone using different facial expressions.

With Camera Switches, users will be able to select one of six gestures – look right, look left, look up, smile, raise eyebrows or open your mouth — to interact with their phone.

“There are different scanning methods you can choose from — so no matter your experience with switch scanning, you can move between items on your screen with ease,” Ghosh said. “You can also assign gestures to open notifications, jump back to the home screen or pause gesture detection. Camera Switches can be used in tandem with physical switches.”

The other feature is called Project Activate and is designed to make it easier for those who can’t speak or who have neurological conditions express themselves in the moment, Ghosh said. It makes it possible to use facial gestures and eye movements to activate preset actions such as a spoken phrase to play audio or sending a text message.

Both of these accessibility features will arrive by the end of the month.

Google has some nice things in store for people who spend hours commuting to work each day too. Android Auto, a mobile app that mirrors the key features of an Android device on a car’s dashboard information and entertainment head unit, is getting support for user’s work profiles.That means busy commuters will be able to stay up to date with their email messages and important work meetings while they’re stuck behind the wheel. Android Auto also now makes it possible for dual-SIM users t choose which SIM they want to make calls through.

On the entertainment side, Android Auto can now play music, access podcasts or news reports via Google Assistant. There’s also a variety of games available from GameSnacks for drivers who are parked up waiting for a to-go order or charging their car.

To help drivers stay on course, the Waze navigation app is getting a refresh that brings a more streamlined experience. The redesigned app now offers touchpad support, night mode and lane guidance support. It also puts displays the map and directions more prominently, Google said, so other elements won’t distract drivers.

Ghosh said these Android Auto features are available now on all phones running Android 6.0 or above.

Elsewhere, Ghosh revealed that Android now has built-in TV remote features that make it possible to turn on the television, navigate through recommendations and start watching a show, directly from the phone. Users can also use the keyboard to search for content more efficiently. The features will only work with TVs that run the Android TV or Google TV platforms, of course, when they launch over the next few weeks.

As always, Google Assistant is a primary focus for Google and the updates here are focused on Reminders. Ghosh said this is a new capability that can easily be accessed by saying, “Hey Google, open my reminders.” The phone will automatically display the user’s to-do notes and also helpful suggestions for recurring reminders. Users can create reminders by simply saying something like, “Hey Google, remind me to water the plants every morning.”

Security is always a chief concern too, and there are some new additions coming to Android that will help users feel just a little bit more secure. The new Locked Folder in Google Photos is a password-protected space to save photos and videos separately, so they won’t show up if another person is using the phone and scrolling through the photo gallery.

Moreover, Nearby Share gets improved visibility settings that enable more control over who can discover the device and send files to it. Users can choose from everyone, their contacts, or no one, and quickly change their preference at any time via the Quick Settings space.

Finally, there’s a new Heads Up feature designed to help people stay alert while walking and using their phone at the same time. This feature, launched on Pixel devices earlier this year, provides a simple alert every few seconds to quickly look up and avoid walking directly into lampposts or other pedestrians. It can be accessed via the Digital Wellbeing settings on devices running Android 9 or later, starting today.

“Google keeps innovating on what can be done with a mobile phone, and with today’s Android updates, it maintains its two=year lead over Apple,” said analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. “Not surprisingly, the updates bring Android smartphones closer to Google Cloud with things like Google Assistant and the reminders all powered by this. The most impact for everyday users is probably on the Android Auto side, where Google is pushing to enable safer and also more entertaining car rides.”

Images: Google

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