Android Q is set to roll out to devices – existing and upcoming – later this year. Before then, however, users of some 23 smartphones are already able to play around with the new version’s latest beta.
In addition to the features that it rolled out in March when Android Q was announced, Google announced several new features at its annual developer conference, Google I/O, in San Francisco yesterday.
Those features are grouped under 3 main themes that the company is focusing on with Android 10: innovation, security and privacy and digital wellbeing.
Security and privacy is the central and main theme of the trio as can be seen right from the first Android Q beta that went out 2 months while the digital wellbeing aspects of Android Q build upon what we saw last year with Android Pie.
“All innovation must happen within a framework of innovation and security,” quipped the Android product manager Stephanie Cuthbertson on stage at I/O yesterday.
According to Google, the digital wellbeing features built into Android 9 have been a hit with users with an overwhelming 90% taking advantage of the App Timer feature to achieve their set goals of not using certain apps for extended periods. A further 27% used another digital wellbeing feature, Wind Down, to cut on their device use at night.
1. Native 5G support
Back in March, we noted that Android Q brings with it support for what is set to be a trend going forward (maybe not): foldable smartphones, something that was echoed at the Google I/O 2019 stage as well. Another of the big trends that is becoming a reality starting this year as mobile network operators around the finalize testing and deploy is 5G.
There are already a couple of 5G-capable smartphones out already. Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G, Oppo’s Reno and Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 5G are already available for purchase in some markets and LG’s V50 ThinQ 5G is set to go on sale soon.
According to Google, over 20 network operators are launching their 5G networks this year.
As such, it pays that the operating system that powers all these devices, Android, stays on top of things and plays nice with the new superfast networks that these device’s users can hope to use soon by optimizing the environment within which apps and games operate so that they can take advantage of the speed and low latency.
2. System-wide dark mode
It came as a surprise to many when release notes for beta 1 of Android Q had no mention of the widely touted dark mode even though there were code pointers of it making it to the final build. Now, with beta 3, it is official that a universal dark mode is indeed going to be a reality on Android. Well, to be specific, at least stock Android.
This is because Google is rather late to the party. Its Android partners like Xiaomi, Samsung, OnePlus and others, have been playing around with the feature for a while and some of them have gone ahead to fully enable it on their customized versions of Android that their respective devices run. For instance, there is dark mode on One UI on yours truly’s Samsung Galaxy Note 9. It’s there on OnePlus smartphones and their OxygenOS.
Dark mode on Android mode is a big change since the white interface that has defined the platform since the debut of Material Design on Android 5.0, Lollipop, half a decade ago.
Users will be able to turn dark mode on and off via a toggle or by entering power saving mode.
3. Focus Mode
This is one of the several digital wellbeing features in Android Q.
What if, besides setting timers so that you can restrict your usage of certain applications you could just flat out flip a switch and block them until you were ready to use them again?
In a nutshell, that is what Focus Mode is. It fights distraction. When one doesn’t want phone calls, emails, maybe the news… They select the apps they don’t want to be distracted by and only get to have them delivering notifications and working they should again after they turn off Focus Mode. More like a ‘do not disturb’ mode that instead of a blanket cutoff, lets one decide which apps have access and which don’t.
As the name suggests, to help one stay in focus.
Even better, Focus Mode is not just limited to Android Q. It will become available to devices running on Android Pie as well so those whose devices won’t be making the jump to Android 10 can rest easy as they are getting some of the features as well and Focus Mode is one of them.
4. Live Captions
Not only are captions on videos useful as accessibility features, or our brothers and sisters who can’t hear, they also come in handy when one is in surroundings where they are not able to play audio. Say a class or a conference. Being in such surroundings shouldn’t mean that one can’t enjoy a video.
That is what Google is setting out to accomplish with the Live Captions feature that is coming.
“With a single tap, Live Caption will automatically caption media that’s playing audio on your phone. Live Caption works with videos, podcasts and audio messages, across any app—even stuff you record yourself. As soon as speech is detected, captions will appear, without ever needing Wifi or cell phone data, and without any audio or captions leaving your phone,” Google notes.
As if having such a feature work with every media app on Android devices is not enough, Live Captions works without even requiring connection to the internet, as was demonstrated on stage at Google I/O 2019. The feature makes use of on-device machine learning which not only means faster access but also, according to Google, more mindfulness of user privacy.
5. Smart Replies
Smart replies are not new to us.
With the demise of Allo, one of Google’s many attempts at getting it right when it comes to messaging, Google brought one of its standout features, smart replies, to its messaging app, Messages for Android. It’s been glorious over there as anyone who has used the app, which is the default messaging app on Android and has been adopted as is by the likes of Huawei and Infinix.
What the feature does is basically pre-empt what one is going to say next in a message and suggest it to the user.
In Android Q, the smart reply feature will be available to any messaging application that one has installed on their device. That means Signal (used for the on-stage demo at Google I/O yesterday), WhatsApp, Telegram… Name them.
Even better, it will also predict any actions that one sends. Thanks to the same on-device machine learning that makes Live Captions possible, Google will scan the contents of a message, identifying everything and match it to appropriate actions. Like, for instance, if a message contains an address, a suggested action will be to open Google Maps. Now, if that has your antenna up about Google possibly snooping on you and what you’re up to, you can rest easy. The company says that all that is done on the device, thanks to on-device machine learning, and nothing ever leaves your device for Google’s remote servers.
6. Faster security updates
The Android update process, as we have previously noted, is long and involves so many things. That is why, in the end, most updates never arrive on time, if they arrive at all.
With Android Q, Google is continuing the work it has been doing with Project Treble by making some key system modules of the operating system’s core framework updateable directly over the air.
Wait, aren’t all updates issued over the air (OTA) these days anyway? Yes, and that is still the case with Android Q. However, what this means is that OS updates will be arriving pretty much like how Google updates its apps which come pre-installed on devices. Like how it updates Google Play and its components, on the fly. This is called Project Mainline.
Even better, according to Google, these components will be updateable without the need for one to reboot their device.
7. Parental controls
Google is expanding the focus of its Family Link tool that it launched in 2017 to help minors set up Google accounts with the direct supervision of their parents or guardians to include digital ground rules through Digital Wellbeing.
With the enhanced Family Link parental controls, parents will be able to review the apps their children install and go ahead and monitor the amount of time they spend on such apps and limit it if they want to. They can even add some “bonus time” if the kids are, say, well behaved. Heck, they can even set up “bed time” so that the kids can disconnect and head to bed.
As with the other digital wellbeing feature on this list, Focus Mode, these parental controls that have been added to Family Link are coming to devices running Android Pie as well. The only condition is that they should be having Digital Wellbeing enabled.
8. Full gesture-based navigation
Google is ditching the back button that is so prominent on devices running stock or near-stock builds of Android 9 Pie. It is replacing it with a simple slider/navigation bar that doesn’t do much other than delegate all the functionality that one would have previously achieved with the back button to gestures.
Since Android Pie came out, gestures have increasingly played a key role in Android navigation and Android Q will be taking that a notch higher.
For users of Huawei devices, including budget ones like those in the Y series like the Y9 2019, Y7 Prime 2019 etc, this will be familiar if they have ever made a point of switching to full-on gesture navigation. I loved the gestures on the Huawei Y7 Prime 2019 so much that they are some of my top features on that device something that is not easy to say when the device in question also has other stellar features that hog all the attention.
9. Built-in screen recording
Just like gesture navigation, this is something that Huawei device users won’t understand why it is such a big deal to the Android purists who constantly bash their chosen device’s software for feature overload since it has been there for ages. I first encountered built-in screen recording on the Huawei P8 eons ago. The same is the case with devices running custom Android builds from other device makers.
While it’s great that the feature has finally made it natively to Android, those who won’t be getting their devices updated to Q won’t be losing sleep over it as they can easily download one of the many apps on the Play Store that do this in case their device lacks the feature.
10. Privacy controls
Google has done quite a bit to improve Android’s security credentials which is why it meant a lot to us Android enthusiasts that Google took a moment to reflect on its accomplishments on the matter with Google Play Protect able to move with speed and make a difference just 2 years since it debuted at Google I/O 2017. and rise to scan over 50 billion apps daily – both sourced from the Play Store as well as outside it.
Now, in 2019 where users are increasingly becoming aware of the risks posed to their privacy by modern day technology, that is not enough. Privacy is a big debate and adds to the security equation and it cannot be ignored. Like Facebook at its annual F8 developer conference, Google used I/O to drum up its support and commitment to better user privacy and where better to show that than on its mobile platform which is often bashed for inconsistencies when it comes to the same?
As we noted when it debuted, Android Q brings with it several privacy-focused features. Like MAC address randomization as well as limiting apps’ access to critical location information on a needs basis. That’s not new, we’ve already heard that.
However, at I/O 2019, Google showed us that it is going a step further and emphasizing privacy by getting its own dedicated menu and bringing it to the fore, high up in the settings app. On the location front, the system will periodically alert users of apps that are constantly accessing their location information so that they can either maintain the status quo or revoke the said access.
Which is your favourite Android 10 feature?