An update to the Google app landed early Saturday morning, but as is standard, there aren't any recognizable changes. The teardown reveals about a dozen minor tweaks to text, but only a little bit of it actually has anything to do with upcoming features and changes.
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. All screenshots and images are real unless otherwise stated, and images are only altered to remove personal information.
The return of KITT and Eyes-free
About four years ago, we covered a project Google internally referred to as KITT, so-named for the wisecracking smart car driven by David Hasselhoff in the show Knight Rider. The project also went by another less pop culture name: Android Eyes-Free. As the name would imply, the goal was to make it possible for users to interact with their phones entirely through voice commands and receive audible feedback.
Now that we have seen Google Assistant on phones, cars, home speakers, and especially headphones, it's obvious that this project was a success and has been progressively executed in increasing effective ways over the last couple of years. Almost 18 months after our first discussion of KITT, both names appeared for the first time in a teardown. Since then, the KITT name hasn't turned up, but there have been very occasional appearances of eyes-free.
This brings us to the latest update, which adds a new line with the eyesfree codename. The text is used for asking users to enable notification access to the Google app if they would like to have their notifications read aloud.
So, what's special about this? In truth, this could be completely innocuous, or it may be the sign that our phones are about to start reading notifications to us. The Google app already requests notification access to enable Notification Dots and reading notifications to users through Assistant-enabled headphones, so the request isn't a new thing. However, the line is phrased a bit differently and doesn't include any other codenames or notations to suggest there's a link to Bisto (the codename for smart headphones), which certainly raises the possibility that we may get to remove one more way that our phones demand our eyeballs.
I also want to briefly call out the point that the message is written in the first person, specifically using "I" to refer to the Google app. While the Assistant will do this from time to time in audible interactions, it's very rare to see any personal pronouns like that on the screen. This could just be a minor error, or perhaps Google is planning to change this little detail of the Assistant so it is slightly more individualized.
Google Lens app might start to matter
Most people probably don't pay much (or any) attention to the Google Lens app released back in June. We're not talking about the functionality, which is built into the Google app, but this is the dedicated Lens app that seems to do nothing more than act as a shortcut to the smart viewfinder. However, a couple of new lines claim that updates to the Lens app may include new features.
<string name="update_google_lens_app_dialog_title">Update Google Lens app?</string>
<string name="update_google_lens_app_dialog_subtitle">To enable the newest features, you need to update your Lens app.</string>
<string name="update_google_lens_app_dialog_no_thanks">No thanks</string>
Yes, I'm plenty skeptical about this one. The Lens APK is larger than a typical shortcut or activator app like the Google Now Launcher, but we've seen little evidence that it does anything of significance. It's possible that it is important to phones made by other OEMs that integrate Lens into their first-party camera apps. While I haven't seen anything remarkable in the latest update, perhaps future updates will contain features that aren't included with the core Google app.
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.