As we predicted last week, Google's latest quarterly Feature Drop is rolling out for Pixel phones today. Unlike the regular monthly security releases, this update includes a ton of new features, including a new play/pause gesture for Pixel 4's Motion Sense, a wider rollout of car crash detection, dark theme scheduling, Live Caption for the Pixel 2, a new power button wallet, live Duo AR effects, a pile of new emoji, and a whole lot more.
There are so many changes that Google has announced as part of this Feature Drop, the easiest way to express them all is a list, (though we should note that Google's level of detail in a few spots leaves something to be desired):
- New play/pause gesture for Pixel 4 Motion Sense
- Pixel 2 gets Live Caption
- Car Crash Detection rolls out for Pixel 4 in Australia and the UK
- AR effects for Duo video calls
- Pixel 4 front-facing/selfie camera portrait blur improvements
- 169 new emoji from the 12.1 release
- New power button wallet menu for quick access to Google Pay payment methods, boarding passes, tickets, etc.
- Support for screenshots of boarding passes is also coming for Pixel 3, 3a, and 4, with real-time flight updates
- Scheduled dark theme/mode, including sunset/sunrise triggers
- New automation Rules for Wi-Fi networks or physical location (possibly including a wider rollout spotted earlier)
- Long-press in the Pixel Launcher for the Pixel 4 now includes "firm" presses
- Pixel 4 screens set to adaptive brightness will get brighter now in strong, direct light (probably the hidden/disabled HBM support spotted last fall)
Some of these changes are very specific, while others are more nebulous. For example, Google's Pixels already support front-facing/selfie portrait mode photos, but Google is specifically improving the results of those shots on the Pixel 4 (with depth data probably gathered with either the radar from Motion Sense or the face unlock system, given the limited device support).
On the other hand, we have no idea what Google is talking about when it comes to the long-press changes for Pixel 4 in the Pixel Launcher — maybe the app shortcut tweak we spotted last December? Google's forum announcement is more clear: it adds "firm" presses for the Pixel 4.
New play/pause Motion Sense gesture.
Many of the new features we are already familiar with, though. The new play/pause Motion Sense gesture popped up in the first Android 11 Developer Preview, together with the scheduled/automatic dark theme. We noticed some substantial improvements in Motion Sense gesture reliability as part of the change, so hopefully, that trickles down as well. Google's also been teasing the power menu wallet for nearly a year — most recently, I saw it for a few hours on my Pixel 4 last Friday. If you've used an iPhone, then you know quick access to your wallet for contactless payments is a convenient feature, and I'm glad to see it roll out.
Power menu wallet.
Google isn't specific about the changes to adaptive brightness or if they're limited to particular devices, but we know the Pixel 4 had a disabled High Brightness Mode that Google had elected not to use. Although we found the phones' brightness okay outside, the Pixel 4 could certainly stand some brightness improvements to compete with other flagships, and this could make a difference. We also thought that Car Crash Detection might see a wider rollout to more devices given the app works on older Pixels now, but Google's announcement seems clear that it's merely coming to Australia and the UK. (At launch, it was limited to the US.)
Some of these features have already been spotted in the wild, others might be subject to additional server-side deployments or app updates.
We're told that the second Pixel Feature Drop should start rolling out to currently supported Pixels beginning today. Whether you're rocking the latest Pixel 4, a Pixel 3a, or an older Pixel 2/3, this month's update is bringing plenty of new features. We just hope the rollout is faster than the last Pixel Feature Drop. And, of course, you can expect all the latest security patches and tweaks to land with it, too.