If you're on the list for beta updates to the Google app, a new version should have rolled out to you in the last day or so. We haven't seen any new features or notable changes yet, but there are quite a few interesting bits worthy of a teardown. There's a sign that rumors about an "Assistant" key on some new Chromebooks may be true and we may finally get to ask the Assistant to name songs again, among other things. As usual, we've got the apk linked at the bottom if you'd like to pick it up without waiting for an update to hit your device.

Teardown

Disclaimer: Teardowns are based on evidence found inside of apks (Android's application package) and are necessarily speculative and usually based on incomplete information. It's possible that the guesses made here are totally and completely wrong. Even when predictions are correct, there is always a chance that plans could change or may be canceled entirely. Much like rumors, nothing is certain until it's officially announced and released.

The features discussed below are probably not live yet, or may only be live for a small percentage of users. Unless stated otherwise, don't expect to see these features if you install the apk.

"Assistant" button on future Chromebooks is pretty likely

There should be little doubt that Google would bring Assistant to Chrome OS, eventually. It would be pretty weird to put Assistant on phones, speakers, watches, set top boxes, and even release an SDK for adding it to various other types of hardware, but not put it on the laptop OS – almost as weird as leaving it off tablets... In fact, a previous teardown of the Google app already gave a hint that Assistant was destined for Chromebooks.

More recently, Chrome Unboxed made a discovery in the open source code repository for Chrome OS that suggested that one or more Chromebooks may be in the works with a dedicated "Assistant" key. A string in the latest Google app adds a little more weight to this report.

<string name="chrome_os_opa_ready_screen_explanation">When your Chromebook is set up, press the Assistant button or say Ok Google to get help from your Assistant anytime.</string>

Strictly speaking, the line refers to an "Assistant button," which is still ambiguous enough to possibly describe an on-screen control rather than a physical button. However, if that were the case, it should probably also include a hint about where to look on the screen. At the very least, this seems to add some weight to the expectation of a physical button. Furthermore, the line clearly points out that Assistant is in always-listening mode and can be activated through the "Ok Google" phrase; but I assume everybody already expected it to work that way, so it's not very notable.

Return of "What's this song"

Google Assistant didn't have the most elegant launch, especially since it lacked some of the popular features that were already available through Google's previous voice control system. One of the most cited examples of a lost feature is the "what's this song" query. Try asking that today and Google Assistant awkwardly responds that it doesn't know how to do that yet. Well, it's about to re-learn that trick. A new string in the latest Google app describes one of opa's (codename for Assistant) suggested activities will be "What's my song."

<string name="opa_music_search_suggestion_chip_title">What\'s this song?</string>

While there are still quite a few features remaining before Assistant has completely absorbed all of the features of the older voice control interface, clearing the list of this one – and probably a few others – will probably ease a lot of the complaints about Google making the switch a bit prematurely.

Clarifications about notification access for contacts and messages

Anytime privacy is a concern, and especially if an app seems to be asking for a lot of access to potentially private information, it's important that an explanation is both clear and thorough, otherwise it can be misconstrued. After news got out about a feature that would examine notifications from other apps, there was some concern that Google may be planning to harvest data that wasn't intended to be read by anybody but the recipient. An explanation was later added, but it lacked specificity. The latest version includes revised text that's a bit more clear about Google's intentions.

The new phrasing helps to both declare an effective privacy policy and add slightly more context about the intended feature. To begin with, the privacy standard is very straightforward: "This feature does not send your notification data off your device." It doesn't get much more clear than that. It also points out that users can have the Google app ignore notifications from certain apps.

As for the feature itself, it explains that users will see "top contacts and messages from additional apps in one place." It's starting to sound like the Google Feed is going to have some kind of card with a digest of recent notifications, but it's hard to say without a bit more info.

New version

<string name="notification_onboarding_title">See contacts and messages from more apps</string>
<string name="notification_onboarding_first_body">Turn on notifications access to see top contacts and messages from additional apps in one place.</string>
<string name="notification_onboarding_second_body">This will enable Google to read notifications from all apps. You can select which messaging apps\' notifications we use or turn off access in Settings &gt; In Apps. This feature does not send your notification data off your device.</string>
<string name="notification_menu_message">To let Google access notifications from other apps, tap the Google toggle. You can always change this access in Settings &gt; In Apps in the Google App.</string>

Old version

<string name="notification_onboarding_title">Want to see more contacts?</string>
<string name="notification_onboarding_body">To see more relevant contacts and messages, turn on notification access. This means that Google can read notifications from all apps and keep the information private on your phone.</string>
<string name="notification_menu_message">To give Google access to your notifications, tap the toggle above next to Google. You can change this access from Settings &gt; In Apps.</string>

Unless you feel like Google can't be taken at its word, or you assume the worst when interpreting the wording, the new text should clear up most of the privacy concerns. However, since the actual description is still pretty vague, we'll have to keep waiting to see what form this thing will ultimately take.

Highlights of the day

Ever since the announcement of the Now page, Google has been angling to maintain and filter information for users before they even know they need it. Based on some new promotional text, it looks like a "Highlights" section may be coming to step up some of that work. It is presented as including information about your scheduled events, travel, and daily tasks, and probably many other things over time.

<string name="promotion_highlight_text">Welcome! Here\'s what\'s upcoming.</string>
<string name="promotion_highlight_subtext">Save time with info on your agenda, commute, trips, and day-to-day tasks, all right here.</string>

This sounds more specific than the current Google Feed, which might mean it will become a separate screen. On the other hand, this could just be an overly focused way to present some of Google's existing Now/Feed features.

Podcast shortcuts

Finally, there's going to be a home screen shortcut that jumps straight to your podcasts. The podcast feature was mentioned in a previous teardown but doesn't appear to have launched yet... Unless it's referencing podcasts in Google Play Music, but I doubt that.

<string name="promotion_card_message">Add a Podcast shortcut to your Home screen</string>
<string name="promotion_card_accept">Add</string>
<string name="promotion_card_reject">No thanks</string>

I would say more about this, but there's just nothing else to say about a shortcut. I think it's safe to end it here.

Download

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.

Version: 7.6.9 beta

Google
Google
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free