Late last week, an update to Google's Phone app began rolling out with no immediately obvious changes to the experience. While users don't have anything to play with quite yet, there are several interesting hints about what is to come in future releases. Hidden among the app's resources are signs of support for Android O's new Notification Channels feature, in-call picture messaging, post-call messaging, hidden menu codes for Motorola phones, and even some odd images of paws. Yes, seriously.
Official changelog posted
Google posted a changelog for the Phone app's latest update with the addition of emergency location display and "call waiting improvements" making up the majority of the new features.
- Emergency location display
- Call waiting improvements (accept second call and end ongoing call)
- Bug fixes
Needless to say, I wasn't going to test anything that may relate to emergency services, but I did try testing the call waiting function. There weren't any visible changes for me, so it's possible these are really under-the-hood improvements or something that doesn't work on my cell carriers.
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.
Notification Channels for Android O
While it's a fairly small feature when compared to some of the improvements we've seen in many major OS updates, the Notification Channels brought to us by Android O are exciting. Most of Google's apps are still not implementing this addition to the API, but it's clearly in the works with the Phone app. While they don't appear to be fully implemented yet, names have been added to the latest apk update that describe six separate channels, including: Incoming calls, Ongoing calls, Missed calls, Voicemails, External calls, and Miscellaneous.
<string name="notification_channel_incoming_call">Incoming calls</string>
<string name="notification_channel_ongoing_call">Ongoing calls</string>
<string name="notification_channel_missed_call">Missed calls</string>
<string name="notification_channel_external_call">External calls</string>
That's a pretty thorough list given the nature of the Phone app and the types of notifications it shows, especially since most users will probably never even see a couple of them. While the strings are there, only the standard Miscellaneous channel is visible in the notification settings screen for the Phone app. In all likelihood, the implementation probably wasn't complete when this update was built, so we can probably expect to see it in the next release, or possibly when the second developer preview image becomes available.
Receive a phone call today on almost any modern phone and you can probably tap or swipe something on the screen to reject it and immediately reply with a pre-written text message to say you're unavailable or will call back shortly. It can be a useful feature, even if it's just for those times when you're driving or stuck in a meeting. But what should the caller do if they don't get through? Leaving a voicemail is turning to be too cumbersome, so many people now send a text instead. New lines in this update suggest the same type of prepared text messages might be added for the caller, as well.
There are a few new lines going into this feature, but three are the new, pre-written messages meant to convey varying degrees of importance. They are simple messages crafted to let the target of the call know that your needs are urgent, important but not time sensitive, or you just called to chat.
<string name="post_call_add_message">Add message</string>
<string name="post_call_message">Say why you called</string>
<string name="post_call_message_1">This is urgent. Call me back.</string>
<string name="post_call_message_2">Call me back when you have some time.</string>
<string name="post_call_message_3">Not urgent, we can chat later.</string>
<string name="post_call_message_sent">Message sent</string>
There aren't any other clues to suggest how this feature will be presented to the caller or if a custom message can be written from the same screen, but it's likely this feature wasn't complete yet, either. Unless some clever tricks are necessary to make this feature smart, it seems like there probably won't have to be too much more work, so it may go live with the next update.
Convenient picture messaging
For many years, phone manufacturers have experimented with bringing certain features to the surface during calls so users don't have to spend too much time poking at their phone to do things that people are likely to need in the moment. One feature that has been popping up occasionally, even as far back as the days of dumb phones, was the ability to quickly take a picture and send it directly to the person in the same conversation. It looks like the same feature is probably destined for Google's Phone app.
<string name="received_a_photo">Received a photo</string>
<string name="sent_a_photo">Sent a photo</string>
There are a few other strings possibly related to this feature, but the two above are the only ones that really matter. They represent the basic status messages to show a picture was sent or received. Again, it's not really clear if there are any clever features that make this a little smarter, but I have a hunch the Phone app will listen for messages containing images (I assume both MMS and RCS) and instead of making users switch to their messaging app, the photos will be shown automatically or with an on-screen button.
Hacking around with a phone can be fun and enable a lot of powerful features, but it often involves a lot of secret methods that aren't intended for the public. Dialer codes have been used as one of the key methods for accessing special menus and functions. A long list of Motorola's dialer codes was included in the latest Phone update. Some of these are pretty old, but at least a few of them didn't turn up in any of my searches, so I thought some people might want to experiment with them.
Disclaimer: Use of these dialer codes is done at your own risk. Some of these may damage your phone and/or void its warranty. You've been warned.
If you want some information on many of these codes, you can find about 3/4 of them listed in this 2012 post by well-known security expert JCase. The behavior of the remaining codes is currently unknown and didn't turn up in my research. Only try them out if you know what you're doing and prepared for the possible consequences.
Cat and dog paws?
Finally, a couple of quirky images were added to this update. A pair of paws, one belonging to a cat and the other to a dog, can now be found in the apk's resources.
Note: Images were converted from webp to png.
I'm not yet sure what they are used for, if they belong to an Easter egg, or maybe somebody at Google just wanted to make sure we were still watching. Both images have transparent backgrounds and look like they could be used for a simple animation where a paw reaches up to grab an object on the screen and drag it away. Whatever the case, ya gotta love the whimsy and humor.
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: 9.0.153787429 (1200965)