Google mandates new accessibility, safety and emergency features for Android 12 GMS certification

Google Mobile Services (GMS) is such an essential suite of apps for Android users. Huawei learnt this the hard way following sanctions that were imposed on them by the US government, which ultimately led to them losing Google services. The lack of Google services on their new devices saw their market share plummet as users failed to buy their devices since they heavily depend on the Google services in their daily activities.

With apps like Chrome, YouTube and Maps being bundled in the Google Mobile Services, it is no surprise what befell Huawei. Now, Google has put forward a new set of standards manufacturers have to meet in order for their new devices to qualify for GMS.

The new set of standards only applies to Android 12 upwards and puts a focus on the “Safety and Emergency” settings page on your Android device. The tech giant’s aim is to ensure every Android user has a baseline level of protection against allergic reactions, earthquakes and other emergencies.

“According to GMS requirements, all Android 12 devices must have a top-level ‘Safety & emergency’ page with the following items in the submenu: medical information, emergency contacts, emergency SOS, emergency location service, earthquake alerts, and wireless emergency alerts, ” wrote former XDA Developers editor Misaah Rahman on Twitter.

Some of the above requirements have been in the Android ecosystem for years, either directly implemented by Google, or later by device manufacturers. The positive change is to see them now being considered mandatory for all mainstream phones and tablets.

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“Emergency SOS” is one of these features, new to Android 12 and was first included in Pixel devices in the Personal Safety app. It was also one of the earliest ones to show up during 2020 developer previews, and we dived into it here. To recap, the SOS feature allows users to tap the power button five times, which in turn contacts emergency services after a five-second wait. Emergency contacts will work the same way dialling 911 works. In case, the phone is turned off or the screen is locked, the phone numbers saved as emergency contacts will be accessible from the locked screen, and can be called without the need to input a fingerprint, pattern or pin first to unlock the device.

Rahman notes that many of these services, including earthquake alerts, wireless emergency alerts, and location services, are all built into Android’s settings menu via Play Services, although their availability may depend on your region.

This rightly raises questions whether these services will be available in the Kenyan shores. Earthquake alerts are plausible since they do not necessarily rely on human input. On the other hand, emergency alerts are probably a pipe dream in the current state of our ambulance services, not to mention the high costs that will be part and parcel of it.

Google’s set of requirements for GMS requirement in Android 12 goes further. Manufacturers will also need to include screen readers to cater for visually impaired users. The most well-known app that offers screen reading services is TalkBack, which can be included by pre-installing the Accessibility Suite app.

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Naftaly is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for tech, video games and pop culture. When he is not writing articles for AndroidKenya, he is probably rewatching the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the hundredth time. Email at Twitter @KarisNaftaly

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