Android Messages just hit version 3.0. While hitting a new major version number might be an occasion for big things in some apps, this one appears to be a simple incremental step up from version 2.9. While there aren't any immediately obvious changes on the surface of this update, there are some things happening under the hood. It looks like support for KitKat has been dropped with this update, leaving behind about 12% of previously supported Android devices. There are also clues about changes to notifications about pictures and videos, enhanced chat features, and making purchases.
Unofficial Changelog: (the stuff we found)
- Minimum API Level raised from 19 to 21
Dropping KitKat support
Just last month, Google Photos dropped support for the three Android versions that fell under the Jelly Bean name, and now it looks like Android Messages is making a similar play for modernization. One difference in this situation is that Messages is dropping Android 4.4 KitKat (API 19). As of last month, KitKat still holds a fairly sizeable 12% of the Android population. As of the latest release, the requirement has been incremented to the next major version: Android 5.0 Lollipop (API21).
As it was pointed out with Photos, this only means that users with a phone running KitKat will simply stop receiving updates to the Android Messages app. However, the previous version will continue to operate normally.
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.
Notifications with picture and video counts
Google has been experimenting with different notifications styles for a long time, and as we've seen with Android P, those efforts aren't over. While Android messages is good about using rich notification styles to show thumbnails of the pictures people have sent to us, it never actually communicates how many pictures were sent to us. For example, the two screenshots below show a notification for a message that happens to contain three images, not just the one that's shown.
As of the latest version, there are now strings that can be used to show the number of pictures or videos that were sent in a message. This will just change the notification text from the current "Picture" message to something like "3 pictures."
<item quantity="other">%d pictures</item>
<item quantity="one">%d picture</item>
<item quantity="other">%d videos</item>
<item quantity="one">%d video</item>
This is certainly a subtle change compared to most of the things we look for, and it seems like it should be pretty simple to implement, but it's the type of polish that makes an app much nicer to use. It's worth noting that I've tested on a couple phones and so far none of them show the counter, so this probably isn't live yet unless Google is going to activate it remotely.
Last month's teardown of Android Messages turned up signs that users may begin being able to make purchases. To be clear, this differs from the existing ability to send or request money from other individuals, a feature that was added back in November. Instead, this appears to fall more in line with payments for retail or service industry situations.
Quite a bit of new text for the payments feature was added in this update, though most of it is for standard error messages, building out the UI for itemized receipts, or generally filling in some of the other little gaps.
However, there is one addition that does stand out as distinct. There is a line with the text, "SWIPE TO PAY" and a new layout named payments_swipe_to_pay_view. This obviously means there will be a swipe gesture required to either begin setting up a payment or used as a final confirmation before money changes hands.
<string name="conversation_list_snippet_payment_receipt">Payment receipt</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_receipt_title">Payment receipt</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_summary_edit_payment_info">Edit payment information</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_summary_payment_method_title">Payment method</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_swipe_to_pay">SWIPE TO PAY</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_completing_toast_text">Payment in progress</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_completing_payment">COMPLETING PAYMENT</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_add_account_alert_message">To complete your purchase, add a Google account</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_add_account_alert_positive_btn">ADD ACCOUNT</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_add_account_alert_negative_btn">NOT NOW</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_alert_check_status_request_failed_title">Can\'t reach %s</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_alert_check_status_request_failed_message">Try again in a few minutes</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_check_status_expired_toast_message">No longer available</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_check_status_no_connection_alert_title">No internet connection</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_check_status_no_connection_alert_message">Check your Wi-Fi or data connection and try again</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_send_token_transaction_expired_alert_message">Sorry, this became unavailable in the last minute or so</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_send_token_transaction_failed_alert_message">Make sure your payment info is correct. If this continues, try a different payment method or contact your bank</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_error_send_token_transaction_failed_alert_title">Couldn\'t process payment</string>
<string name="rbm_payments_unexpected_error">An unexpected error has occurred</string>
Oh, and there's also an image for completed payments.
Follow-up: Texting over Wi-Fi / Enhanced Chat features
Another topic previously discussed in a teardown was Google's "Enhanced Chat" and the ability to send messages over Wi-Fi or cellular data (as opposed to the old messaging protocols). There was some discussion that these features may be exclusives for Project Fi subscribers, especially since some support pages included some instructions that overlapped closely with text from the teardown, but a live support page included fine print indicating that the same functions would work with "some phones and service providers, including carriers or Jibe Mobile from Google."
In the latest update, new text removes any doubt that texting over Wi-Fi and other features would work with multiple carriers. In the lines below, it's made clear that users will have to verify their device info with their carrier to enable enhanced chat features. Not that it adds much to the conversation, but one line also includes a placeholder where a specific installed SIM will be referenced for multi-SIM phones.
<string name="conversation_list_fast_track_popup_title_without_constellation">New! Text over Wi‑Fi & more</string>
<string name="conversation_list_fast_track_paragraph_multi_sim_without_constellation">To turn on chat features from Google on \"%1$s\" (SIM %2$d), you accept the %3$s and allow verification of device info with your carrier.</string>
<string name="conversation_list_fast_track_paragraph_without_constellation">To turn on chat features from Google, you accept the %1$s and allow verification of device info with your carrier.</string>
<string name="setting_fast_track_body_without_constellation">By continuing, you agree to the %1$s and allow verification of device info with your carrier.</string>
<string name="settings_fast_track_dialog_title_without_constellation">Enable chat features from Google?</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.