Google (GOOG, GOOGL) on Tuesday unveiled the latest updates to its Android operating system at its big I/O developers conference. The event, which took place in Google's hometown of Mountain View, California, serves as a means for the company to provide developers and fans with a closer look at what it's been working on for the past year.
Android is the world's most popular operating system, running on smartphones ranging from manufacturers like Samsung to Huawei and everything in between. So any changes to the OS will impact billions of users around the world.
Google's next version of Android, Android Q 10.0, has been in beta for a while already, but we got a fresh look at a few new features coming to the operating system later this fall.
The foldable smartphone market got off to an inauspicious start with the failed launch of Samsung's Galaxy Fold handset in April. But foldable phones aren't done for. Google will support foldable devices in its next version of Android with a feature called screen continuity.
I saw this in person with the Galaxy Fold, and it essentially allows you to use an app on a smartphone's folded display and then unfold the screen to use the same app on a larger panel. It's a slick function, and perfect for apps like Maps, Netflix, or the Chrome browser. Of course, you'll only be able to take advantage of this if you've got a foldable phone, so you'll have to wait to check out the feature.
Google also announced that Android Q will come with a live captioning feature that will let you add captions to videos in real-time. In a stage demonstration, Google representatives showed how a device running Android Q listened to and transcribed a user's voice into text with ease on a live video.
The transcription service runs across the operating system, meaning you'll be able to use it in any app and within your web browser. Importantly, your voice data never leaves your phone for the cloud, thanks to Android Q's built-in artificial intelligence capabilities. That means your voice won't go into the cloud, but we'll have to find out if it also means Google never sees your transcriptions.
Accessibility features like live captioning are incredibly important as they help ensure that users with poor or no hearing can take advantage of video calling and streaming.
Android Q is also set to get a new Smart Reply feature that integrates app options into your replies. In a stage demonstration, Google representatives showed how if you receive a text message with an address, you can open Google Maps from the smart reply notification box rather than having to copy the address, open Google Maps, and paste the address.
I could see this being helpful if your significant other asks if you want to order in for dinner, and then have smart reply give you the option to open up your delivery app of choice. Or if a friend tells you about a new band in a text, smart reply offers up Spotify.
Security and Privacy
Google also said it is building on its security features in Android Q. There will now be a Privacy tab in the settings menu that will give you access to your Google Activity Controls, Location History information and Ad Settings.
Activity Controls more or less lets you control whether or not Google can use information about you to sell ads. It's from here that you access all of the settings you'd want to kill if you're tired of Google knowing everything about you.
Location History will let keep Google from holding onto your location data, as well as give you the option of determining when apps can access your location. For instance, you can tell an app that it can only access your location data when it's in use. Close the app, and it loses access to your location data.
Finally, Google announced that it will bring a feature called Focus mode to Android. Focus mode will let you select specific apps that you can mute when you're trying to get things done.
If you get distracted by Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, you can effectively block them so that you don't get updates from them. Turn off Focus mode, and you'll once again have access to those updates.
It's a small improvement, but one that should help users from having their productivity consumed by addictive apps.
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