Last week, Google dropped a set of updates coming to Pixel phones and it's following up that news today with features heading to the broader Android ecosystem. This lot of new features will arrive mostly today or this week, and they span things like Messages, Emoji, Assistant, Android Auto and Voice Access.
Of these, the one that will probably be the most useful in our day-to-day interactions with our phones is the new ability to star content in the Messages app. This is like pinning a message in Slack or Telegram — after you tap and hold a message and star it, you can easily find it later by going to the Starred section in the app. Google said starred messages "will start to roll out more broadly over the coming weeks."
Google is also making it easier to interact with your device using just your voice. More apps are now compatible with Assistant, featuring deeper integration than before. This means you can now ask the Assistant things like "pay my Capital One bill" or "check my miles on Strava" to open the respective apps and finish those tasks or see your stats onscreen. You can also say "Hey Google, shortcuts" to see what else you can do.
For people with motor disabilities, Voice Access now has a gaze detection feature in beta that will let you set it to only work when you're looking at the screen. This way, if you're using voice commands to interact with your phone while you're around friends and family, you don't have to worry about Voice Access picking up your voice when you're just chatting with someone. Google also updated the password input tool in Voice Access. Now, when the system detects a password field, it'll let you input letters, numbers and symbols. So you can say "capital P, a, s, s, w, o, r, d" for example, or "dollar sign exclamation point" to input the respective symbols.
Google's emoji-combining tool, called Emoji Kitchen, is getting an update too. Say you've created the perfect sticker by mixing the crying-face with the raised-hands icon. The next time you type something in Gboard that Google believes is relevant to that sticker, it'll show it as a suggested emoji. These contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions roll out to Gboard beta today, and will arrive this summer to all Gboard users (on Android 6.0 and later) typing in English, Spanish and Portugese.
Those using Android Auto in their cars will now see more customization options, like manually setting a dark mode for their dashboard and using their phones to personalize a launcher screen. Google added new navigation cues to make it easier to browse content, with new tabs in media apps, a back-to-top shortcut and an A-to-Z button in the scroll bar. It's also simplified the setup process to help new users get started with Android Auto "with a few simple taps."
Google says it also added new app experiences, with EV charging, parking and navigation apps now available in Android Auto. It also improved the messaging experience by letting you access your favorite messaging apps like WhatsApp or Messages from the launcher screen. You can also directly send new messages from these two apps as well.
Finally, Google is bringing its Android-based earthquake alert system to more countries. The Android Earthquake Alerts System uses the millions of Android devices around the world as mini seismometers to tell if tectonic movements are happening. It launched last August in California, and more recently expanded to Greece and New Zealand. Today, Google is introducing the system in Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The company also said it plans to make this feature available in most countries in the first half of 2022, starting with countries "with high earthquake risks that also have a significant number of people using Android phones with Google Play Services." Then, it will launch in countries with moderate earthquake risk and then the rest of the world.