At I/O 2019, Google announced the third beta of Android Q, its next major release for mobile devices. The update brings a number of new features as the industry transforms in terms of connectivity and form factor at the same time. Google dropped the first beta release of Android 10 Q in March but the third beta announced at I/O brings some of the key user-facing features to the forefront. The search giant also brought support for Android Q beta to 15 non-Google smartphones in an effort to expand its reach and make technology more accessible. Here is a look at the top features of Android Q worth waiting for.
The first major feature coming to Android with the release of Android Q is dark theme. Dark theme has become one of the most requested features on software as well as applications. While Google added a pseudo dark theme with the release of Android 9 Pie, the Android Q release brings a system-wide dark interface. By dark theme, Google means true black appearance across the system and not dark grey theme seen on some custom ROMs. Activating Dark Theme on Google Pixel devices is as simple as pulling down the Quick Settings menu and tapping a button. When you enable Battery Saver mode on Android 10 Q, it activates Dark Theme by default, and Google claims this will result in battery efficiency.
The dark theme is, of course, supported by all Google apps and some apps already support the feature right now. It is also announcing API so that third-party developers can add Dark Theme to their applications. Developers will have the option to add a single line of code to their apps to create dark theme and when enabled, the app will invert its colors to show dark appearance.
Watch: Android Q How to install
This is probably the most meaningful update coming to Android with the next major software release. With Android Q, Google will be able to directly target devices and issue over-the-air security updates. This could end the weeks and months long wait times associated with getting security updates on non-Google devices. Google says it will be able to bypass Android OEMs and carrier services and issue security updates on all devices shipping with Android Q. However, devices get updated to Android Q will have to wait and get security updates via traditional process.
The new initiative dubbed “Project Mainline” will distribute these security updates via Play Store as opposed to System Update infrastructure currently used for software updates. Google also notes that there won’t be a need to restart the device after these security patches are deployed on the devices. The security updates will focus on 14 modules of the operating system, especially the ones susceptible to remote attacks and it could change the way Google secures billions of active Android devices.
Permissions and Privacy
Google is the company that made the business of data monetization possible in the first place. It has been repeatedly criticized for gathering user data and while it continues to state that the data is being used to make better products, the privacy practice is getting a huge revamp with Android Q. The change will put Android in the same league as Apple’s iOS in terms of privacy practice and permissions given to third-party applications.
During the first release of Android Q beta, Google confirmed that it will obfuscate hardware IDs, block background starts, and lock down storage as an effort to strengthen Android’s core infrastructure. The most consumer facing change is in the way Android app collect location data. Like iOS, Android will give users an option to let an app access location data only when it is open and active on your device. Whenever an app access your location data, Google will show a notification in the status bar clearly showing what’s happening in the background.
Another revamp as part of this strategy is called Privacy, which is now a top-level option in the Settings menu. Inside Privacy, Android Q users will have individual controls to see which app have access to what kind of setting and will even be able to disable them. This simplified approach removes friction where users had to hunt through multiple options even for Google account settings.
With the release of Android Pie and launch of new devices like the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, Google introduced gesture-based navigation system. While the gestures replaced the traditional three button system, it was not as intuitive as the gestural navigation seen on iPhone X and newer models. Google is addressing that with a revamped gesture interface for Pixel devices with the release of Android Q. While the feature is limited to Google’s own devices for now, Android smartphone makers like HMD Global will also be able to tap into it for their own devices.
If you have a Pixel running Android Pie and upgrade to Android Q then the first change will be the end of back button. The back button has been replaced with a new gesture where users can swipe from right or left to go back to the previous screen. The gesture is similar to the one seen on gestures supported by Huawei on its EMUI skin. It is a welcome relief from the existing back button. The pill is now thinner and looks like a white bar.
It is easy to say that the new gesture on Android Q is identical to the iPhone’s gesture interface. The basic gestures are still the same. You swipe up to go home while swiping up and dragging across takes you to multitasking view. Android users can also quickly swipe the white bar to switch between two recent apps. Swiping up from the home screen enters the app drawer. On Pixel 3 XL, the new gestures seemed more fluid and easier to use than the older interface and maybe this will make iPhone users feel at home when they switch to a Pixel device.
Family Link meets Digital Wellbeing
Last year, Google introduced Digital Wellbeing as a feature to track the amount of time spent on the device and allow you to unwind from your digital lifestyle. With Android Q, Google is making Digital Wellbeing even more powerful by integrating parental controls available as part of Family Link app. The feature will allow parents to control the amount of time spent by their children on their Android smartphone. Alongside parental controls, Google is also introducing a new feature called Focus Mode, which lets you select a list of apps that you find distracting and once selected, those apps are grayed out and their notifications are hidden.
While Digital Wellbeing, in its current state, lets you use an app for a specified amount of time, Focus Mode lets you be proactive and block apps right away. This along with Do Not Disturb makes controlling your screen time more practical and easier.
Notifications and other features
Google seems to be doing a lot to make your work easier on Android. With Android Q, whenever you get a message on any of the messaging platform, Google will show automated suggestions. Android Q can not only recommend replies but is also context aware. If you get an address in message then Google will show an option called “Open Map” that will take directly to the location. Google is also changing the way you dismiss notification on Android Q. Now, you cannot swipe in both directions to dismiss notifications. One direction now dismisses the notification while the other direction shows options like snoozing or changing settings.
There is also a new feature called Live Caption, arguably the coolest feature coming to Android this year. Think of a scenario where you are riding in a train, want to watch a video but realize that you don’t have headphones. The most common solution is you would leave the video to watch later. But, Google wants to help you out in such situations with a feature called Live Caption. As the name implies, it gives you a real-time transcription of what is being said in any video or audio and it works in any app and across the entire operating system.
The feature uses on device machine learning and you don’t need an active internet connection to see those transcripts. The power of Google’s image and speech recognition is on full display with this feature. Google says these captions are not saved to cloud and does not let you save the text of your transcriptions as part of additional privacy protection.
How can I experience Android Q?
This is the most important question and considering the past few years, Android OEMs are not likely to release Android Q any sooner than they did before. The best way to experience Android Q and some of the Google device specific features is to go ahead and buy any of the Pixel-branded smartphones. The depth of devices has only gotten better with the launch of Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.