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The first beta of Android Q rolled out over a month ago, and although we've spent hours dissecting every feature it brings, from the bigger ones to the absolute smallest, there are still some surprises that we haven't discussed in detail yet. The most interesting — also the most hidden and difficult to reproduce — are some mysterious actions that surface for a few users in specific places, only to disappear and never be seen again. They are a sign of things to come though, even if they're not fully reproducible just yet.
What are these actions?
The actions discussed below act like quick links between apps. They provide developers with ways of catching intents in other apps and directing them to their own. We've seen something similar with App Actions in Pie. See a phone number in Chrome? You can save it to your contacts or place a call immediately. Get sent the name of a new music artist in WhatsApp? You can instantly view it in Spotify. But now, there are more actions like these, though they're lurking in the background and only showing themselves in a few instances.
I'm hesitating to call these App Actions even if they present themselves very similarly. According to the developer documentation, App Actions are supposed to show up in the Launcher, Smart Text Selection, Google Search app, Assistant, and the Play Store, and be built on intents for the Google Assistant. Whereas what we're seeing in Q expands a bit beyond that, showing up in notifications as well, and appearing to be built around more native intents to the Android system and not just Assistant.
Perhaps Q is preparing to expand App Actions or perhaps these are different. But I'll stop hypothesizing and get to the circumstances where our tipsters have spotted these actions. It's likely that Google has been activating them on a server-side basis, since we can't reproduce most of them on our devices, but they show great potential once they're rolled out to everyone.
Actions in notifications
We're starting to become accustomed to seeing contextual buttons in our notifications. The same functionality that brought smart replies to the now-defunct Reply app has been used to pop up suggestions in message notifications for a while. But we know Android Q has a secret weapon that can do a lot more than that: Notification Assistant. This powerful app can modify any other app's notification and add buttons to it.
Whether it's Notification Assistant or something else at play, some users have spotted new and contextually appropriate buttons in their Android Q notifications.
First, as shown by @RonAmadeo and @MishaalRahman, notifications containing links have a Chrome button to open them directly in the browser, and those that have Twitter links can even suggest the app to open the tweet.
Second, tipster Jordi Gordillo showed us how notifications that contain a date or time can suggest a Google Calendar action.
In both cases, you completely bypass the first step of opening the notification in its originating app then either clicking on the link or selecting the date, and instead, you jump straight to the next action in another app.
Actions in Search
Actions aren't new to Google Search. Look for any contact on your Android Pie phone and you'll be able to expand their name to get calling and messaging icons. The same is true of toggling device settings.
On Android Q, we've noticed one more instance of actions in search. If you've recently looked for a Maps location, you may see quick buttons to call that place or get directions there. Our own Artem spotted this, though again, we weren't able to reproduce it.
Actions for text selection
Smart Text Selection has been available in Android for a while, and with Android Pie, it also spread to the Overview (app switcher). We've already seen suggestions to make calls for phone numbers, open a location in Maps, view a video in YouTube, open a link in Chrome, add a date to the Calendar, and check out an artist in Spotify, but there's more coming our way.
Both suggestions below come from the Google app. The first one, tipped to us by SpadeX, is a quick action to define any selected word. We were able to replicate it in Chrome but only on some web pages, and we've also been told by another tipster, Ramit Suri, that it works in the Messages app (though just in Overview, because you need to select text first), but we weren't able to verify the latter on our devices.
The second one also comes to us from SpadeX, and shows the Google app suggesting to track a shipping number, though it doesn't seem to properly recognize those numbers just yet.
And finally, there's a screenshot-less tip from Gus Lipkin who told us he spotted new actions when seeing the transcription of a voicemail and switching to the Overview screen — namely, it was an option to respond with a note. We haven't been able to replicate that either, but it does sound exactly like the all the actions described above.
More smarts, fewer taps
Even though we failed to replicate most of these actions, despite testing the same circumstances on our Android Q beta 2 devices, we're holding out hope that the next developer preview betas will make them more reliable to trigger. At the latest, they should be there in the final release of Q, and more developers should have implemented them for their apps.
In a way, these actions remind me of the first time I discovered the Share functionality in Android. Here was something made to simplify my life, so instead of copying and pasting something, or manually moving between apps, it provided a seamless transition of an item (text, link, file, media item, etc...) from one to the other.
The prospect of this kind of action becoming more ubiquitous is appealing in the same way. They offer quick contextual actions to speed up several mundane processes and smoothen out the transition between apps, but are much more versatile than a simple share from one app to another.