As we close in on Google's October 4th launch event, a new beta release of the Google app itself is rolling out with hints about some of the things we may hear about during the presentation. In this update, we find further confirmation that one or both of the new Pixels will include pressure-sensitive sides that wake up Google Assistant. There are also clues about customizable search bars and interchangeable voices for the Google Assistant. And we can look forward to routines, which are basically shortcuts capable of taking multiple actions.
The features discussed below probably have not gone live yet, or may only be live for a small percentage of users. However, keep a watchful eye because they may be hidden in unexpected places or Google may activate them remotely at just about any time.
Active Edge Settings for a new squeezable Pixel
Back in July, we received some reliable information that the upcoming version of the Pixel XL (and its smaller sibling) would likely offer a squeezable frame like the one found in the HTC U11 – David wasn't a fan. About a month later, FCC filings for the smaller Pixel 2 effectively confirmed it would be made by HTC and an included screenshot from its Settings app contained the phrase, "Active Edge on, squeeze for your Assistant." It doesn't take a genius to see that HTC's pressure-sensitive control would be renamed and making an appearance in at least one, if not both of the new Pixels.
Not that there was much doubt at this point, but the latest update to the Google app adds another log to the fire. Three new lines of text and a placeholder for the settings screen are making it pretty obvious with an explanation that a "squeeze gesture" activates Google Assistant.
<string name="nexus_active_edge_settings_title">Squeeze for your Assistant</string>
<string name="nexus_active_edge_settings_dialog_text">To change settings for the squeeze gesture, go to your phone's Active Edge settings.</string>
<string name="nexus_active_edge_settings_dialog_button">Active Edge settings</string>
<Preference android:persistent="false" android:title="@string/nexus_active_edge_settings_title" android:key="opaActiveEdgeSettings" android:widgetLayout="@layout/preference_widget_next" />
There's no direct wording to this effect, but if there is a settings screen for Active Edge, it would possibly suggest that the squeeze gesture can be reassigned. At the very least, it can obviously be turned off. Beyond that, there's still not a lot to know.
Customizable Google Bar
Another addition to this update would seem to suggest there may be a customizable widget in the works. Based on the strings and categories, users would presumably have the option to change the color, shading, and shape of what I would have to imagine is a search bar. It may also be possible to turn off, or possibly even replace the Google logo.
Honestly, I'm a bit skeptical with this one. Google doesn't have a great history of giving users any creative control over the appearance of its first-party interfaces or widgets, so it feels a bit unlikely that we're about to see something like that now. It's possible these lines were added to give partners some visual control, or it may even be limited to internal testing.
On the other hand, it seems likely that theme support is coming to Android in an official capacity, so just about anything is possible. Like last year's teardown that revealed round icons and launcher shortcuts were to become part of Android 7.1, it's just as possible this is the next clue that Android 8.1 will open the doors to user theming, and this widget may take advantage of that.
<string name="google_bar">Google Bar</string>
<string name="bar_color_title">Bar color</string>
<string name="bar_logo_title">Bar logo</string>
<string name="bar_shading_title">Bar shading</string>
<string name="bar_shape_title">Bar shape</string>
<string name="menu_overlay_feedback">Send feedback</string>
<string name="color_palette">Color Palette</string>
<string name="feedback_entrypoint_widget_customization">Widget customization</string>
<string name="feedback_entrypoint_widget_customization_overlay">Widget customization overlay</string>
The many voices of Assistant
On the subject of customization, users may soon have the option to adopt a new voice for Google Assistant. A couple of new strings seem to imply that a list of voices will soon be available to replace Google's standard voice.
<string name="assistant_settings_voice_selection_category">Available voices</string>
Replacing the voice of Assistant isn't exactly necessary, but it would be nice to have some variety if for no other reason than to make it more obvious which device responded to a hotword.
Ever since Google first introduced an always listening, voice-activated interface, people have been pushing for the option to set their own custom hotwords. It only makes sense when the same phrase from just about anybody could trigger a dozen nearby phones in the same room. Based on a couple of new strings, there's a chance those users are finally getting their wish.
The new lines will make up a notification, but they are phrased a bit strangely and leave me skeptical that this may not be what it appears. The title of the notification says, "new hotword available now," while the inner text simply asks users to tap to "upgrade." Google occasionally uses uncommon phrasing for some features, but it's hard to imagine saying that you're upgrading your hotword.
<string name="search_service_hotword_upgrade_retraining_notification_content">Tap to upgrade.</string>
There is probably a better explanation for these lines, but I haven't thought of one yet.
Routines, or multi-step user actions
If you've been using Google Assistant very much, you've probably run up against some of its limits. One of the more important weak points is that it's hard to get a single command to do a lot of different things. For example, it's not hard to set up multiple lights on the same platform (e.g. they're all Phillips Hue), but it gets a lot trickier if you're also trying to open a garage door or start a playlist on your Google Home, things get considerably more difficult.
Now it looks like Google is taking a step beyond the customizable shortcuts enabled back in May. Additions to the latest Google app indicate that a new feature called Routines will be coming to Assistant, but it differentiates itself from Shortcuts by enabling users to build a single routine that can take multiple actions. However, there aren't really any other details to take away from the handful of strings we have to look at right now.
<string name="assistant_settings_routines_description">Get daily help with personal Routines. Just say one command and your Assistant will do multiple things.</string>
<string name="assistant_settings_routine_editor_title">Edit routine</string>
<PreferenceScreen android:icon="@drawable/quantum_ic_today_grey600_24" android:persistent="false" android:title="@string/assistant_settings_routines_title" android:key="@string/assistant_routines_preference" android:widgetLayout="@layout/preference_widget_next" android:fragment="com.google.android.apps.gsa.assistant.settings.features.littlebits.RoutinesFragment" />
Since Routines will make Shortcuts effectively redundant, I suspect we'll see the Shortcuts converted and only Routines will be left in the end.
Every two or three updates to the Google app, there are little bits and pieces related to podcast capabilities. The trend continues in this update as a new user-defined action seems to be in development. This action doesn't just play an episode, it resumes playback from the point you left off at in an unfinished episode.
Users can request the last episode that had been playing, or name a specific podcast they would like to resume. If no podcast is named, Assistant will likely offer suggestions from a list of episodes that went unfinished.
<string name="continue_listening_section_title">Continue listening</string>
<string name="user_defined_action_task_podcast_continue_last_played">Continue last played podcast</string>
<string name="user_defined_action_task_podcast_continue_specific_complete">Continue \"%1$s\"</string>
<string name="user_defined_action_task_podcast_continue_specific_incomplete">Continue a specific podcast</string>
<string name="user_defined_action_task_podcast_which">Which podcast?</string>
<string name="user_defined_action_task_podcast_title">My podcasts</string>
<string name="user_defined_action_task_podcast_main_category_title">Playback preferences</string>
<string name="user_defined_action_task_podcast_specific_edit_content_description">Select a podcast</string>
<string name="user_defined_action_task_podcast_examples">For example, "99% Invisible", "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me", or "Freakonomics".</string>
The Google Assistant has an assortment of interesting little features that weren't really advertised when they were added. One of those hidden gems turned up in Google Home earlier this year when it was discovered that there is a library of relaxing audio tracks available for play. Now it looks like Google is adding a new action for all of Assistant users with a more narrowly defined focus on sleep sounds. The selection is a bit more limited at five themes for ambient tracks: Sleep, Meditation, Nature, Ocean, and Thunderstorm.
<string name="user_defined_action_task_play_sound_title">Play sleep sounds</string>
<string name="user_defined_action_task_play_sound_main_category_title">Choose which sounds to hear while you're falling asleep. These sounds will stop automatically.</string>
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: 7.12.16 beta