Android update adds scheduled texts and improves accessibility

As well as a dark mode for Maps, password checker and Auto tweaks.

The first developer preview of Android 12 may not have told us a lot about what to expect from the next version of Google's mobile OS, but we're getting new features sooner than we expected. The company is announcing a set of six updates today that could tide us over as we wait for Android 12 to officially arrive. The changes include a password checkup tool, dark mode for Google Maps, Assistant lock screen cards, revamped TalkBack screen reader and scheduled Messages. Android Auto is also getting custom wallpapers, voice-activated games and a privacy screen.

For most people, the most immediately useful update is the ability to schedule Messages. Android users can set a text to send after a certain time (say after your partner has posted your engagement announcement to Instagram, for example). This can be helpful in a variety of scenarios, like when you're talking to someone in a different timezone and don't want to bother them while they're asleep, or if you simply don't want to appear too eager when chatting up a potential new lover. Scheduled send in Messages is starting to roll out and will be available to those using Android 7 or newer.

We've heard for months that a dark mode may be coming to Google Maps, and today the feature is finally official. You can go to the app's Settings, select Theme and tap Always in Dark Theme to switch to the new scheme when you're using Maps. Another update that's been a long time coming is the ability to use Assistant when your phone is locked. If you activate the Lock Screen Personal Results in Assistant settings, you can ask the helper to make calls, set timers or play music and a card will appear onscreen to execute your command. This can make your device easier for hands-free use, which should benefit those with mobility impairments too.

Android Spring 2021 update Assistant lock screen

Google is also updating one of its biggest accessibility features — the TalkBack screen reader. It's adding a dozen new multi-finger gestures and voice commands to make it easier to interact with your phone if you can't see your display. The new gestures are available on the latest version of TalkBack on Pixel devices and Samsung's One UI 3 onwards. There will also be new reading controls that let you swipe with three fingers to change between reading just the headlines, every word or even every single character.

The company also received feedback that TalkBack's menu structure was confusing, so the update integrates them in an effort to make navigation simpler. Google's also adding more customization options and support for Arabic and Spanish in its braille keyboard to cater to more people's needs. This version of TalkBack was co-developed with Samsung, and it's now the default screen reader on all Galaxy devices running One UI 3 and later.

One of the new features in today's announcement may sound familiar — password checkup. It's been mentioned since 2019, and was initially available on Chrome to alert you if your password has been compromised and posted on the web. With today's update, Google will check your passwords when you enter them into an app using Autofill and walk you through changing it. This will work on devices running Android 9 and later.

Google Android Spring 2021 update Android Auto dashboard animation

Finally, Android Auto will soon get shortcuts on the launch screen to make it easier to reach your contacts or activate the Assistant. Voice-activated games like Jeopardy! and trivia are also coming, as is a privacy screen that lets you decide when Android Auto appears on your car's display. You'll also be able to pick from a selection of "car-inspired backgrounds" to personalize your dashboard, and those with wider screens can split it to feature Google Maps on one side and media controls on the other.

It's not clear when all of these updates will start rolling out, though the ones for Android Auto will be available "in the coming days" on phones with Android 6.0 or later. Google has been releasing new features for its OS more frequently throughout the year lately, instead of saving them for one big release with each major version of Android. While it might lead to every generation of the software feeling like less of an upgrade, it's nice to get these features as they become ready instead of having to wait till later in the year.