The Google app now has its own beta channel, and the first official version dropped last week. Of course there are a number of bug fixes and probably some fine tuning for performance, but no notable features seemed to turn up between the two releases. However, like most other updates, there are new clues about features we've yet to see. This time around, there is evidence of Chrome's Custom Tab feature coming to search results, a new event card for concert tickets, and a pair of new cards for system status toggles.
Chrome Custom Tabs
It didn't seem like a feature for people to collectively crowd around, but Chrome Custom Tabs have become something of a popular request. Announced during the I/O 2015 keynote, Custom Tabs allow developers to open full page web content in a pop-up screen from their apps. This can save them from having to toss users into a separate web browser or building a custom interface around a web view. Users also stand to gain from having access to their synced login credentials, cookies, and settings they've already chosen within the Chrome for Android browser.
Users running the M Developer Preview were treated to an early look at custom tabs with Google search results if they manually flipped a toggle called "Enable Hosted Mode" under Chrome Dev's flags. Now that we're out of the developer previews, that option is missing. Naturally, it's coming back, but this time it will be a little more configurable. New strings and a new toggle have been added to the Google app that show users will be able to decide if they want to automatically open a Custom Tab or fire up a browser of their choice.
<string name="use_custom_tabs">Open web pages inside Google app</string>
<string name="use_custom_tabs_default_summary">Use to view web pages</string>
<string name="use_custom_tabs_currently_unavailable">Currently unavailable.</string>
<string name="use_custom_tabs_primary_account">Signed in as %1$s</string>
<SwitchPreference android:persistent="true" android:title="@string/use_custom_tabs" android:key="use_custom_tabs" android:summary="@string/use_custom_tabs_default_summary" android:defaultValue="true" />
The most important detail is that custom tabs are, in fact, coming back to the Google app. Additionally, this seems like an improvement over the workflow seen during the developer previews which prompted users to make a decision in the sharing dialog. Now users are free to switch Custom Tabs on and off through the Google app settings without having to reset app defaults.
Since Google already had this working months ago, it seems likely we'll see this activated with a server-side switch or with the next Google app update. Once activated, Custom Tabs will be enabled by default, but users will be able to disable them under Settings -> Accounts & privacy. Remember, this requires Chrome 45 or above, but that was released about two months ago, so we should all have it by now.
New Status Indicator Cards
Existing card toggles for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and flashlight.
Google is slowly expanding on the system status cards that can be shown after the right search terms or voice commands. At present, the options are basically limited to switching on or off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and the flashlight.
Two additional options are coming down the pipeline soon. Some of the newly added strings and images indicate airplane mode and battery saver mode will be joining the list. Like custom tabs, activating battery saver mode through voice commands was actually a feature on the M Developer Preview, but it wasn't included in the final release or any of the updates to the Google app. Airplane mode was semi-supported in so much that speaking a command to enable or disable it would launch into the correct screen in Settings
<string name="batterysaver_on">Battery Saver on</string>
<string name="batterysaver_off">Battery Saver off</string>
<string name="airplanemode_on">Airplane Mode on</string>
<string name="airplanemode_off">Airplane Mode off</string>
These will almost certainly join the list of offline voice commands since they are fairly simple and straight forward toggles, but they haven't been added yet.
Concert Tickets in Google Now
Google Now is pretty great at keeping track of the things you have planned. It can show pertinent information about flight and hotel bookings, scheduled meetings, and even your daily commute. Now it looks like another item is about to join the list: concerts. A pair of new strings show us that our ticket purchases will soon show up in the Google Now stream like many other types of events. As a bonus, the information presented will also include the time doors are scheduled to open at the venue.
<string name="qp_concert_ticket_doors_open_time">Doors open at</string>
It's not clear if cards for concert tickets are live yet. I don't have any concerts lined up in my immediate future, so I don't really have anything to check. However, this seems like something Google might promote in its social streams once it has been activated; but that hasn't happened yet, so I've got a feeling we might have to wait a bit longer.
The latest version of the Google app has been available in the beta channel for about a week, but if you haven't received it yet or if you're on the stable channel and want to play with the latest, we've got a download link here.
The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.
File Name: com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox_126.96.36.199.arm-300552016_minAPI19(armeabi-v7a)(nodpi).apk
Version: 188.8.131.52.arm (300552016)