Version 7.3 of the Google app began rolling out to users in the beta channel earlier today. There are a few odd little changes to be found poking around in the UI, like a new menu shortcut on many of the Assistant settings screens that leads to the Activity Controls settings, but it's all pretty innocuous. We'll surely see more significant features going live as Google activates them remotely over the coming weeks™. Nevertheless, there are some interesting things to be found during the course of a teardown.
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.
Last year, Google took a (half-hearted) stab at supporting podcasts with the Play Music app. The same day, in a much less expected move, it also became possible to listen to individual episodes right from a Google search. Fast forward several months and Google Assistant also gained the ability to play podcasts, which turned out to be a fairly natural feature for Google Home.
While Play Music allows users to subscribe to podcasts, listening to one through Google Search or Assistant meant asking for shows by name, and may also require a specific episode number if you want to hear anything but the most recent recording. Now it looks like Google is going to close that gap with built-in podcast subscriptions.
<string name="no_podcasts_found">No podcasts found</string>
<string name="delete_favorites">Delete selected podcasts</string>
<string name="confirm_unsubscribe_title">Unsubscribe from this show?</string>
By all appearances, podcast subscriptions will be accessible in Google Assistant settings and will likely be treated much like subscriptions to news sources. The one obvious difference is that Google will track which episodes have been played so you won't miss any or have to listen to repeats.
I do want to know if this will use the same subscription list and episode tracking as Play Music, because it would certainly be annoying if the two are independent and can't be kept in sync. However, if this is done right, it will make Google Home a really great appliance for podcast listening.
Note: Some previously added strings already related to podcasts, but only in the context of marking them as favorites. The new text shows that a more fully-baked feature is planned.
Audio Player Notification Channel
The Google app already has a huge number of notification channels, but there is a new one titled "Audio Player" on the way. There can be no doubt that this topic is related to the previous section about podcasts; but I broke it out as a separate topic because it will surely fit other situations, as well.
<string name="audio_player_notification_channel">Audio Player</string>
Naturally, this channel will be occupied by a player control and should pop up anytime there is audio playing through the Google app. For example, search results can also be used to find and play audio clips from popular music. There's really not much more to say about this, but it's probably good that users will have the option to modify settings for these notifications.
Data Saver for Now Cards
If you've been following along for a while, it's probably pretty obvious Google has been tweaking many of its apps to be more responsible about data usage, especially in countries known to have slow throughput and low data caps. If this applies to you, then there's a setting that you might want to keep an eye out for. Google is adding a Data Saver mode for the Now Cards.
<string name="turn_on_feed_datasaver">Data saver</string>
<string name="feed_datasaver_details">When data saver is on, your feed won’t get the latest content.</string>
<com.google.android.apps.gsa.search.core.preferences.CustomSwitchPreference android:key="@string/feed_datasaver_preference" android:defaultValue="false" />
This differs from the Lite Mode that Google began working on and testing last year. That setting was intended to optimize the data passing between the server and user so that it would consume less while delivering the same (or similar) quality of content. The Data Saver feature discussed here is focused on preventing Google from updating the Now Cards in the background.
If you don't even look at Google Now cards, or maybe don't care about seeing them updated unless they are manually refreshed, this is definitely a feature you'll want to look for. Google may have already made it available in certain regions, but it's not yet showing up for me, so I suggest taking a look in the Google settings under the Your Feed section. If it's enabled for your device, the Data Saver option should be at the very top of the list.
Google Assistant on Chrome OS (Tease)
During an interview with The Telegraph in mid-December, Hiroshi Lockheimer made a pretty clear statement that Google Assistant was destined to arrive on Chrome OS at some point in the future. That was about six months ago and it seems nobody has seen it happen in any official capacity yet. However, a couple of new strings in the Google app actually do appear to suggest this plan hasn't been abandoned.
<string name="chrome_os_opa_value_proposition_cancel">No Thanks</string>
Only the string names matter in this situation. The text will just be used to label a pair of buttons. The bit about "chrome os" is pretty clear, and the "opa" segment is a standard shorthand for Google Assistant.
As for the "value proposition" bit, I assume these buttons will be used on an ad that either encourages users to set up Assistant when it becomes available, or may even suggest buying a Chromebook. For now, it's hard to tell since the content of the message isn't included at this time. It may be pushed to users remotely when it's time to run the message.
While this gives no clues about a release date or any new features, at least it's a paltry sign of hope for Chrome OS users that have become frustrated with waiting for Assistant to make its grand debut on laptops.
I usually skip over new icons since most of them are redundant or don't really relate to anything too special. However, there are three that might be worth a quick mention.
The first belongs to the recently announced Google Lens. It matches the icon shown during the I/O keynote and the filename confirms it. While the icon is there, it doesn't show up anywhere in the live interface, which isn't too surprising since Lens hasn't actually launched yet. No doubt it will appear in the Google Assistant at some point, probably in the same horizontal row with the new keyboard icon for text input.
The next icon is the always familiar RSS logo. I don't want to venture too many guesses about any features it might lead to, but it would make sense if the Google app is going to become a little more friendly towards subscribing to content providers instead of providing just randomly chosen articles.
Last but not least, we have the water symbol from The Fifth Element. It actually represents "waves" in this case. It might have to do with coastal conditions, recreational spots, or surfing reports. Okay, I admit it, I only included this one so I could squeeze in that movie reference.
Finally, we've come to a mystery topic. The resources for the latest update include a brand new menu named attribution_popup_menu.xml with just one command called "view image source."
<string name="view_image_source">View image source</string>
<item android:visible="true" android:title="@string/view_image_source" />
As a person that writes a lot of original content and edits a lot of images, my first instinct was that this might be related to a tool that would help people identify the origin of many images on the Internet. After many attempts to test that theory, I'm not so confident about it.
My second thought is that this menu is related to the Google Attribution announcement made just yesterday. The timing and name certainly go together, but it's hard to come up with a reason why somebody would need to view the source of an image in that context.
I don't have too many other thoughts on this one, but speculation in the comments is welcome.
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: 7.3.16 beta