Android gets a slew of updates spanning Photos, Assistant, and Gboard

Today, Google announced a wide array of updates for Android that covers several different apps and services. From accessibility and Assistant to Photos and even something for Google TV, these new updates not only add new features but, in some cases, they're bringing functionality that was at one point exclusive to Pixel over to other Android smartphones.

The new accessibility features Android is getting sound particularly useful. Google is rolling out a new feature called Camera Switches, allowing users with motor impairments to navigate their phone with eye movements and facial gestures. Camera Switches controls can be edited so gestures shorter or longer than a set amount of time are ignored, so it sounds like users will have a relatively fine level of customization to work with. Camera Switches can be found in the Android Accessibility Suite once the feature is live.

Also new is an app called Project Activate, which again taps into eye movements and facial gestures, this time to activate preset actions that allow those who don't talk or have motor impairments to communicate with others. It sounds like Project Activate will offer a wide range of actions, as users will be able to make their phone speak specific phrases, play audio, and send text messages. In addition, Google says that it has added handwriting recognition for Latin-based languages to its Lookout app, which should vastly increase the app's usefulness.

The single update arriving on Google TV is a big one, as it'll let you use your phone as a remote control for your Google TV device. This, by extension, means that you'll be able to use your phone's keyboard to type in searches, which is much more preferable to using the navigation keys to punch in characters on a regular remote. To use your phone as a remote on Google TV and Android TV OS, all you need to do is add the remote tile to quick settings on your smartphone.

Google also announced today that the Locked Folder feature from the Pixel is making its way to other Android phones in the future. Locked Folder is a pretty straightforward feature, as it allows you to sequester private photos and videos in a password-protected folder, preventing them from showing up in Google Photos. In addition, Google is building out Assistant's support for daily reminders, allowing users to see all of their reminders at a glance by saying, "Hey Google, open my reminders."

We're also seeing a handful of updates hitting Gboard, with Google revealing that 1,500 new stickers will be landing in Emoji Kitchen this fall. Gboard will also streamline the way we copy and paste, with Google saying that it will automatically sort copied information containing multiple phone numbers, email addresses, and URLs into a selection of different paste suggestions. Phones running Android 11 or newer will even be able to complete entire sentences through Smart Compose with the help of machine learning.

In addition to everything we just listed, Google will also tweak visibility settings in Nearby Share, which will let users pick between being visible to everyone, only people in their contacts list, or no one at all. Finally, Google is bringing Heads Up – which will regularly remind users to look up when they're walking with their phone out – to all Android 9 and newer devices after initially making it a Pixel exclusive.

So, Android is in for a whole host of upgrades in the future, but there doesn't seem to be set release dates for any of these features yet. Instead, look for these new features and updates to roll out throughout autumn 2021.