Every week, I examine somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred app updates while looking for changes. The most interesting things turn into APK Teardowns or Download posts. Many of the remaining updates are unremarkable, amounting to a few bug fixes, routine updates to libraries, or even just pixel-level adjustments to layouts and images. However, there are usually a few updates that land somewhere in between. I don't want to spam readers with dozens of short posts, but I hate to ignore things that people might want to know about, so I'm going to wrap up the leftovers for a little weekend reading and call it Update Notes.

There was a lot over the last couple of weeks that I didn't even have time to throw together for this post, so I may try to get another Update Notes ready for next weekend.

Special thanks to נתנאל מ for the great hero image on this post!

YouTube v13.40

I enjoy when the key item of a teardown is just an image.

Watch party [Teardown]

Facebook recently made a feature called Watch Party available to everybody after a period of testing. In short, it allows multiple people in different places to watch a video in sync with each other. Ideally, this lets everybody have the same experience at the same time so they can share reactions in unison.

This brings us to the new arrival in YouTube, a single icon named ic_watch_party. The icon itself doesn't really convey whether it's related to Facebook's feature by the same name, but I find it unlikely to be an accident. Of course, if it is a straight copy of Facebook's feature, there's nothing stopping the developers from using the same name for an icon so long as they don't launch the feature with the branded name.

But let's be honest, YouTube will surely implement a synchronized video experience now that Facebook has done it, and I don't think anybody needed to hear it from a teardown to come to the same conclusion.

Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free

YouTube v13.41

This update wasn't very exciting either, but it did bring a few new strings for a topic that has come up a few times in the past.

Voice Search for Smart Remote

We've seen Smart Remote pop up a couple of times, first with just the name appearing in an earlier version of the YouTube app, then later with more strings and the images for a D-Pad and mic in the YouTube Music app. Not that there should have been much doubt, but it looks like an explanation for the mic button is here: It should make YouTube hunt down videos to watch just by using your voice to search.

<string name="mdx_smart_remote_mealbar_title">New! Voice search for TV</string>
<string name="mdx_smart_remote_mealbar_detail_text">Search for videos faster with voice.\10Connect to your TV to get started.</string>
<string name="mdx_smart_remote_mealbar_connect_button_text">CONNECT</string>
<string name="mdx_smart_remote_mealbar_dismiss_button_text">NOT NOW</string>

I know, voice search was the obvious reason for the mic button, but it was always possible that it was going to be used for other types of voice commands. For example, YouTube TV received something like that earlier this year.

Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free

YouTube v13.43

And we've got another one from YouTube. I have a feeling this would have deserved a whole post, but there's not much to go with, so we'll just start with a spot in Update Notes.

Super stickers

I know, I know, anything related to stickers seems like it must be a joke at this point. Allo was drowning in stickers, the other messenger apps eventually joined it, and Gboard eventually took the plunge. If a Google app involved sending a message, it basically had to have stickers. Go ahead and think that if you will, but here we are with a string that seems to be about something called "super stickers."

<string name="super_stickers_disabled_in_full_screen">This feature is not available in full screen</string>

If you're familiar with live streams on YouTube, there's a chance you've heard of Super Chats, a feature that allows viewers to pay some money to give their comments extra visibility. Right now, the single string above doesn't really give a ton of context, but I think it's a safe bet that we're looking at something pretty similar feature that will allow paying users to push a sticker (and maybe a comment) to the chat window.

Frankly, my instincts make me want to poke fun at this, but it's actually a pretty good idea. It will give viewers a way to contribute to the channel without having to write a comment. Stickers will fit in really well with congratulatory moments, like a big win in a game or the announcement that a baby is on the way. Point is, it'll add more fun to the idea of contributing to a channel.

Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free

YouTube Music v2.55

There's not really much to see here, but let's briefly touch on the couple of things that did happen in the latest update of YouTube Music.

Policy spam

Left: v2.53. Right: v2.55.

There's now a link to the legal mumbo jumbo. Let's not pretend it matters.

Audio only setting... in settings

Get ready to have an audio-only mode in YouTube Music. Wait, you already have that, you say? Yes, you can turn off music videos and get just the audio version if you flip a little toggle switch at the top of the music player screen. This has been around either since YouTube Music launched, or at least very shortly thereafter.

What makes this different is that the setting will appear in the actual Settings screen. This means you don't have to start a music video just to turn videos off. If you're on a tight data constraint, even the little bit of video you have to download in the process of switching off that toggle could be somewhat significant. Additionally, people tend to assume a setting like that would be found in the Settings screen, and it wasn't very intuitive that it was only available in the player.

<string name="dont_play_video_setting_title">Don’t play music videos</string>
<string name="dont_play_video_setting_byline">Switch music videos to audio-only or album versions of songs</string>
<string name="dont_play_video_edu_text">Never want to see videos? Turn on the “Don’t play music videos” setting to always listen without streaming video.</string><com.google.android.apps.youtube.music.ui.SwitchCompatPreference android:title="@string/dont_play_video_setting_title" android:key="pref_key_dont_play_video" android:summary="@string/dont_play_video_setting_byline"/>

Google+ v10.17

By now, most people know that Google+ is not long for this world... Well, okay, 10 months is still fairly long; and it's not actually dying, just transitioning into a private social network for corporations. But as far as most of us are concerned, it won't be around anymore. So my question is, why are they adding features that would have been good for a big public social network?

Audience size

It looks like there might be a new gauge for visibility, but this one may be preemptively informing users on how to get a larger viewership. A metric called Audience Size will be shown with posts, and it will simply inform users that an audience is either large or small, or if there is no audience, users will be advised to add tags to increase it. I'm not sure if tags are related to something instilled in corporate networks, but the context makes it sound like posts may only appear based on filtered tags.

<string name="audience_size">Audience Size:</string>
<string name="audience_size_one_content_description">Audience size is small</string>
<string name="audience_size_two_content_description">Audience size is large</string>
<string name="audience_size_zero">Add tags to increase Audience</string>

I'm not sure if there's any relationship, but this reminds me a little of a feature called Ripples that was removed in 2015. If you don't remember it, or maybe never even heard of it, Ripples was an interactive graph that showed how a post was reshared as it branched out through other users. Not only was this good for seeing that a post had gained traction, but helped with visualizing the audiences that were interested in or cared about your post. In early 2017, an altogether less interesting replacement appeared under the name Quick Insights. This was basically a generic counter for total engagement, just like you might see on Twitter. I'm suspicious that the Audience Size metric might be based somewhat on these earlier trackers.

Whatever the explanation may be, I'm still baffled that Google+ sat virtually inert for the better part of three years — and even lost features in the meantime — and then we suddenly started seeing one teardown after another with significant signs of new development, but now it's doomed to be shut down to the public. Maybe if somebody had bothered to do this stuff three years ago, Google wouldn't be planning to close the doors on G+ next year.

Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free

Google Camera v6.1

We've heard plenty about the Pixel 3 camera and there's surely more to come officially. We've already discussed some of the improvements coming with the Pixel 3 itself and a few of the more general features available to older Google phones with the latest APK, but that's not quite all there is to say. A few things are floating around in this update that haven't been spotted or discussed yet.

Autofocus: Near and Far

The motion tracking autofocus feature is definitely a big step forward and may even turn into a big win for making smartphones more attractive than dedicated cameras where autofocus during video tends to be iffy even on the best days. However, it seems you might also get another way to set autofocus that involves keeping it set to a general distance.

Some new strings suggest that you'll be able to lock autofocus to either Near or Far. I take this to mean that the camera is allowed to autofocus to objects that remain within those general regions, but never attempt to refocus if an object travels from the background into the foreground or vice versa.

<string name="af_desc">Autofocus options</string>
<string name="af_on_desc">Autofocus on</string>
<string name="af_on_acc_desc">Autofocus on</string>
<string name="af_off_far_desc">Far</string>
<string name="af_off_far_acc_desc">Autofocus locked to far</string>
<string name="af_off_near_desc">Near</string>
<string name="af_off_near_acc_desc">Autofocus locked to near</string>

Time lapse mode

Time lapses make for great short videos and establishing shots. We've anticipated the addition of a time lapse mode in the Google Camera app literally since it was released in 2014. Even then, there were strings and an icon pointing to a time lapse mode. Since then, minor changes have happened in an assortment of updates, but somehow the mode never actually came to fruition.

Nothing really changed in the latest update, but a new string was added that seems to suggest it now has an interesting nickname: "Cheetah Mode."

<string name="mode_timelapse">Time Lapse</string>
<string name="mode_timelapse_desc">Switch to Cheetah Mode</string>

So, does this random change mean that a time lapse mode is about to finally come true in the Google Camera app? If I'm being honest, I don't think so. Not that it won't happen, just that it's not going to happen in the next couple of months. Perhaps it will happen in 2019, possibly in the beginning of the year, but more likely toward the middle or end... if at all.

Why am I dismissing the possibility that it's coming soon? Frankly, I think time lapses are pretty powerful, especially if Google has any special computational magic to apply that might solve classic challenges like flickering or big exposure changes as the sun sets or rises. If Google had been planning to enable time lapse mode during 2018, it would have been announced during the Pixel 3 unveiling along with other features, even if it wouldn't launch immediately — and we saw that exact thing happen with Night Sight, which is only just now rolling out.

Fun codenames

We already know about Night Sight, but you may not know the codename for it is cuttlefish. It's not important, but it's kind of a cute detail.

<string name="mode_cuttlefish">Night</string>
<string name="mode_cuttlefish_desc">Switch to Cuttlefish Mode</string>

Sadly, as of the 6.1.013 update, it was renamed to Night Mode. This also came alongside the addition of a few new strings related to Night Sight (or is it now Night Mode?).

<string name="mode_cuttlefish_desc">Switch to Night Mode</string>

<string name="cuttlefish_capturing_first">Hold still</string>
<string name="cuttlefish_capturing_second">Collecting light</string>
<string name="cuttlefish_description">Takes vibrant and bright photos in low light</string>
<string name="cuttlefish_name">Night</string>


And finally, the Google camera may start telling you how to take better pictures and make better use of its features. If it detects low ambient light, it will suggest turning on Night mode. Likewise, if it seems like you're having trouble getting focus, the camera may suggest moving back to get a little better perspective on your subject.

<string name="advice_night_message">🌙 It\'s dark, try Night mode.</string>
<string name="advice_scene_distance_message">Move back to improve focus</string>

Google Camera
Google Camera
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free

Google Photos v4.3

The last few updates to Photos have been mostly oriented around supporting new features announced in the Pixel 3 event, but there hasn't been much unique to discuss otherwise. However, the v4.3 update did include a few new lines related to suggested actions. Some of these aren't exactly new, but their addition might mean there are tweaks or new ways that they'll come out in the future.

<string name="photos_suggestedactions_editor_invert_text">Color</string>
<string name="photos_suggestedactions_editor_a11y_invert_colors">Convert to greyscale.</string>
<string name="photos_suggestedactions_archive_move_to_archive">Move to archive</string>
<string name="photos_suggestedactions_editor_adjust_corners">Adjust Corners</string><string name="photos_suggestedactions_editor_adjust_corners_done_button">Done</string>
<string name="photos_suggestedactions_editor_adjust_corners_reset_button">Reset</string>

Google Photos
Google Photos
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free

Wear OS v2.17

Wear OS 2.1 should have rolled out to everybody by now, so it probably won't come as a surprise that the app updates aren't popping up with any brand new features right away. However, there are a couple of things happening that we can touch on quickly.

Follow-up: Media controls

In the v2.16 teardown, I covered some possible changes to media controls that would allow users to decide if they want the control interface to appear automatically or not. This setting is for the phone app, meaning you'll be able to change it on either device. So far, it only seems to appear on the watch, but not yet on phones.

<string name="media_controls_autolaunch_setting_title">Autolaunch media controls</string>
<string name="media_controls_autolaunch_setting_body">Open media controls automatically on watch when playback starts from phone</string>

eSIM support

The first smartwatches with cellular connectivity were designed with Nano SIM trays. Needless to say, those are some pretty thick watches. A new generation is coming soon, and some of them will be moving to a much more practical eSIM solution that saves quite a bit of space and allows watches to be built without removable doors. Of course, eSIM requires a setup process, and this update appears to be adding some of the UI components to carry out the steps of setting up service and selecting a data plan.

<string name="esim_welcome_header">Connect to %1$s</string>
<string name="esim_welcome_subtext">Set up your eSIM to enable data service on your watch</string>
<string name="esim_plan_select_header">Select a plan</string>
<string name="esim_plan_select_subtext">If you purchase a plan, you\'ll be able to use the data immediately.</string>
<string name="esim_purchase_a_plan">Purchase a plan</string>
<string name="esim_scan_qr_code">Already have a plan?</string>
<string name="esim_select_plan">Select plan</string>
<string name="esim_no_plans_available">No plans available. Please check back later.</string>
<string name="esim_arrow_icon">Arrow icon</string>
<string name="esim_barcode_icon">Barcode icon</string>
<string name="esim_cancel_button_text">Cancel</string>
<string name="esim_plan_cost_unknown">Cost Unknown</string>
<string name="esim_setup_button_text">Set up</string>
<string name="esim_sim_icon">SIM icon</string><activity android:name="com.google.android.clockwork.companion.esim.EsimSetupActivity" android:exported="false" android:theme="@style/EsimTheme" />