A new beta version of the Google app is rolling out to users and a teardown shows several new features that will either be included in the next version or possibly a subsequent version. The improvements and features cover both the Google Assistant and will presumably be available for all users as well as some features specific to the forthcoming Pixel 2 device.
When it comes to the Google app running on the new Pixel 2 smartphone, the code in the new app indicates Google’s support for the squeezable frame HTC is bringing to the device. According to the strings included in the code, Google may be planning to market this as “Active Edge” that will support settings for a “squeeze gesture” as well as using a squeeze to invoke the Google Assistant. The latter may be likened to providing a dedicated button for quick access the the Google Assistant.
More generally, there are several new features that appear to be in the works. One of these is a new “Google Bar” that has several references included in the code. Most of these references involve formatting options like shape, color and transparency of either the bar or the title and logo. The code does not specify whether this may be something that is part of the notification system or maybe a widget.
In terms of helpfulness of the Google Assistant, some additions include new voices, new hotwords, and new Routines features. All of these point to increased customization of the Google Assistant. For voices, no listen of possible options has been discovered yet, but the code includes the ability for users to choose “the voice your Assistant will use to respond to you.” Other assistants like Siri only have options for male or female. Interestingly enough, Google’s own Text-to-Speech engine already includes the ability to select from different voices, so porting this over to the Google Assistant may not be that difficult for Google.
The code included in this new beta version also has a line indicating “New hotword available now” to be displayed after a user upgrades. Unfortunately, there is no indication as to whether the new hotword will be something Google provides whether as a single new option or a choice of options or whether user will be able to create their own hotword to trigger the Assistant. The former seems more likely. At present, users are pretty much limited to “OK Google” for the hotword.
The final Assistant oriented change has to do with a feature called “Routines.” These sound like juiced up Shortcuts, a feature Google introduced at I/O 2017. Shortcuts were simple commands like “good night” to turn off all of a user’s smart lights. There were limited to single actions. The new Routines feature appears to take that concept, but let users string together several commands and actions from a single command.
The last couple improvements involve audio features. For Google Home devices, Google has a library of relaxation sounds that users can play. This latest update adds sounds specifically designed to help users fall asleep with names “Meditation,” “Nature,” “Ocean,” “Sleep,” and “Thunderstorm.” Besides the new sound options, the sleep sounds can be configured to stop automatically once a person falls asleep.
The other audio oriented feature involves several tweaks to the controls for Podcasts. One that has been spotted is the ability to continue a previously started Podcast. Other changes include the apparent ability to configure some Playback preferences like default Podcasts to launch.