Google held the keynote for its I/O developers’ conference today, and revealed its new Pixel 3a phones, improvements to the Google Assistant and Google Duplex, and more. The company also highlighted new features coming to its Android operating system, which is Android 10, also known as Android Q.
Here’s what to know about some of the new bells and whistles Google is touting for the latest and greatest version of its mobile operating system.
Do you ever turn on the subtitles on Game of Thrones and other shows to help you understand what characters are mumbling about? Google revealed a new captioning option that takes the words spoken in a video and displays them as captions in real time. This is a separate capability from what Netflix offers in their app, for example—it’s a way for you to see captions in a video you’ve taken on your phone, or that someone has sent you.
In fact, Google says in a blog item that the feature “works with videos, podcasts and audio messages, across any app—even stuff you record yourself.”
The feature could be helpful for a person who is hard of hearing, or deaf. Google has moved the artificial intelligence network that powers captioning to the phone itself rather than the cloud, so that it doesn’t need to be connected to the internet to work. That AI takes the form of a neural network that occupies just 80 megabytes of space on your smartphone; the fact that this machine learning magic happens on the device is good from a privacy perspective.
Android 10 is getting a dark mode, which Google calls Dark Theme. Besides giving your phone a brooding black-hued look, dark mode can stretch a phone’s battery life. That’s because on an OLED screen, the individual pixels can actually shut off. When dark mode is on and parts of the screen are pure black, that means that pixels are off, and the battery is doing less work.
Better privacy and location control
Navigating Google and Android privacy settings can be confusing. Android Q is intended to make controlling information like your location easier. For example, currently on Android, when managing if an app has access to your location, there are two choices—a yes or no.
But Stephanie Cuthbertson, the senior director for Android at Google, said during the I/O keynote event that Android will let you choose if an app can know your location always, never, or “only while using the app.” That last option is a great middle ground for people who want to take advantage of the ways that sharing your location with an app can be useful or essential (Uber needs to know where to pick you up, for example) but don’t want to always allow an app to know that information. iPhones already have a “While Using the App” option for location, and it’s great to see Android on the path to offering the same.
Android Q will also create a new “Privacy” option in the Settings app, which hopefully makes these choices easier to parse. And speaking of privacy, while it’s not strictly Android-related, Google announced today that a feature they revealed last week is now available—it that lets you ask the company to automatically delete some of your data after 3 or 18 months.
Specifically, it’s now an option for your Web & App activity. To find that choice, log into your Google account, click on Data & personalization, then Web & App activity, then Manage Activity, and then look for the button that says “Choose to delete automatically.” The same option should be coming to Location History “in the coming weeks,” according to Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO.
Android Q will offer more features focused are digital well-being, like a “Focus mode,” in which you choose specific apps you want to stop bothering you while you have that mode engaged; there will also be more parental controls.
You’re probably hearing a lot about the promises of 5G, which is the faster, next-gen cellular network that’s slowly arriving. This next version of Android “supports 5G natively,” Cuthbertson said. Remember, besides the software running on the phone, the smartphone itself also has to have the right internal equipment to be able to pick up a 5G signal where it exists. Right now, the most prominent 5G enabled phone is the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, but you shouldn’t rush to run out and buy a handset like this just yet.
Folding phone support
Android Q has also been designed to work well with phones that fold, like the Samsung Galaxy Fold (which still doesn't have a release date due to issues with that folding screen). But Samsung debacle aside, this new version of Android will support handsets that fold through features like “screen continuity”—in other words, if you’re using an app on the front screen of a folding phone, and then you open the device to the tablet-sized screen, that app will then port itself over to the bigger internal screen.
Curious to try it out? A beta build is available today, and you don’t need to have a Pixel phone to try it—it’ll work on 21 different phones, according to Cuthbertson, made by companies like Asus, Nokia, Sony, and Huawei.