The first Android 12 Developer Preview may not have told us much about what to expect from the next version of Google’s mobile operating system, but we’re getting new features sooner than expected. The company today announces a series of six updates that might surprise us as we wait for Android 12 to officially arrive. Changes include a password check tool, Google Maps dark mode, screen maps to lock the assistant, a revamped TalkBack screen reader, and scheduled messages. Android Auto also gets custom wallpapers, voice activated games, and a privacy screen.
For most users, the most useful update immediately is the ability to schedule messages. Android users can set a text to be sent after a certain period of time (e.g. after your partner has posted your engagement announcement on Instagram). This can be helpful in a variety of scenarios, such as: For example, when you’re talking to someone in a different time zone and you don’t want to disturb them while they sleep, or when you just don’t want to appear too eager while chatting with a potential new lover. Scheduled sending of messages will start with the launch and will be available to users with Android 7 or later.
We’ve heard for months that Google Maps might get a dark mode, and today the feature is finally official. You can go to the app’s settings, select a theme, and tap Always in the Dark to switch to the new scheme when using maps. Another update that is a long time coming is the ability to use the assistant when your phone is locked. If you enable the Personal Results lock screen in the wizard settings, you can ask the helper to make calls, set timers, or play music. A card will appear on the screen that you can use to carry out your command. This can make your device easier to use hands-free, which should also benefit people with reduced mobility.
Google is also updating one of its biggest accessibility features – the TalkBack screen reader. A dozen new multi-finger gestures and voice commands are added to make it easier to interact with your phone when you can’t see your display. The new gestures are available in the latest version of TalkBack on Pixel devices and from Samsung One UI 3. There will also be new reading controls that let you swipe with three fingers to switch between reading just the headings, every word, or even every single character.
The company also received feedback that TalkBack’s menu structure was confusing, so the update incorporates it to make navigation easier. Google is adding more customization options and support for Arabic and Spanish to the braille keyboard to suit the needs of more people. This version of TalkBack was developed in collaboration with Samsung and is now the standard screen reader on all Galaxy devices with One UI 3 and higher.
One of the new features in today’s announcement may sound familiar – password verification. It has been mentioned since 2019 and was originally available on Chrome to notify you when your password was compromised and posted on the internet. With today’s update, Google will check your passwords when you autofill them into an app and walk you through the change. This works on devices with Android 9 and higher.
Finally, Android Auto will shortly be getting shortcuts on the home screen so that you can more easily reach your contacts or activate the assistant. Voice activated games like Jeopardy! and Trivia come along with a privacy screen that lets you decide when Android Auto is shown on your car’s display. You can also choose from a selection of “car-inspired wallpapers” to personalize your dashboard, and those with wider screens can split it up to use Google Maps on one side and media controls on the other.
It is not clear when all of these updates will be available, although those for Android Auto will be available “in the coming days” on phones running Android 6.0 or later. Google has been releasing new features for its operating system more frequently lately over the course of the year, rather than saving them for a large version with each major version of Android. While it can make each generation of software feel less like an upgrade, it’s nice to get those features as soon as they’re done instead of having to wait until later in the year.