Just a few days after we covered some possible upcoming features for the Pixel phones thanks to a teardown of the Pixel Tips app, Google officially introduced them as part of the first "Pixel feature drop." Other than memory enhancements to the Pixel phones, you'll find app-specific improvements in this update such as the option to add blur to any picture in Google Photos, automatic Call Screen support for robocalls, and improvements to Duo.
Google enhanced memory management across all supported generations of Pixel phones with this update. The devices should now proactively compress cached applications so that you can run more apps at the same time.
— Made by Google (@madebygoogle) December 9, 2019
In Google Photos, you can now add background blur to any image you've taken, even if you shot it years ago without portrait mode. Some pictures will get a toast message that you can tap to blur the background right away, while you'll have to head into the editor to adjust others.
The latest update to Call Screen on the Pixel 4 in the US now lets you automatically screen and filter calls from unknown numbers. When the feature detects a robocall, it will not ring your phone at all, while other legitimate calls will still ring after the screening with Google giving you context about who is calling and why.
Google Duo has also received some substantial improvements. When your connection is spotty, a machine learning algorithm predicts the most likely next sound on the Pixel 4 and makes it easier to hold a conversation without having to repeat yourself over and over. The Pixel 2, 3, and 4 all get support for live background blurring so that your untidy bedroom stays mostly hidden. The app also takes full advantage of the Pixel 4's 90Hz screen and displays a smoother video feed.
Additionally, the new Google Assistant is rolling to more locales with this update, and the Pixel 4 has received faster location accuracy in Google Maps thanks to improved on-device computing.
In essence, "Pixel feature drops" are a rebranding and small rethought of the monthly security patches (Update: Google plans to release the "Pixel feature drops" quarterly going forward while not touching the cadence of monthly security updates). The company wants to offer new features more regularly, so you won't have to wait for major releases to get minor improvements to your phone. All the updates coming as part of this drop are rolling out to the individual apps on the Play Store and via the December security patch.
Photos blur rolling out
Although we have to wait for each feature to land via its own mechanism, the anticipated portrait blur change is apparently already rolling out. At least one of our tipsters (Thanks: Armando) has the feature already, and it's working for all photos with people/faces in them, including those not taken with depth data via Portrait mode. In those images, a "Blur" slider replaces the previous "pop" slider in the relevant section of Google Photos' editing menus.
We don't see it ourselves just yet, but it sounds like the tentative rollout has begun.
Automatic call screening coming to all Pixels on Android 10
Even though automatic call screening will be limited to the Pixel 4 in the beginning, it looks like it's headed to all Pixels "over the coming weeks", as Google confirmed.
Duo background blur and auto-framing rolling out
One by one, these features are starting to pop up on our devices. Portrait mode is live for me with Duo v68 on the Pixel 4 XL, and it works as expected, blurring the background to focus on my face. I also see the auto-framing option, but it doesn't seem to work yet. If I move sideways, Duo doesn't adjust to keep me centered.
Quarterly feature drops going forward
Although it originally seemed as though Google planned to publish the Pixel feature drops on a monthly basis along with security patches, it looks like that's not the case after all. The Verge talked to Google's vice president of Pixel product management Sabrina Ellis who said, "We’re targeting a quarterly cadence [for the feature drops]. Setting that type of structure up front is helping our teams understand how they can set their development timelines."
This is actually in line with Google's envisaged release schedule since 2016's Android 7 Nougat. Back when it announced that OS update, the company stated new maintenance releases could be expected quarterly and would focus on "continued refinements and polish." The Pixel feature drops expand on these updates and will make them more comprehensible to customers, and some of the OS changes in them could also make it into other Android devices.
- The Verge