Google announces grab bag of new Android features for the end of 2021


Google has a bevy of new features coming soon to Android, including new widgets for YouTube Music, Google Play Books, and Google Photos; new Android Auto features; and updates for Google Assistant and Google Photos. The company detailed the new features in a blog post.

The biggest car-based addition is that from today Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy S21 owners will be able to use their phones as a car key with “compatible BMW vehicles” in select countries. Google announced it was working on the car key feature for Android 12 in May, specifically citing BMW as one of the manufacturers with which it would work. Google says the feature will be available “on all BMW 2020 & 2022 model year vehicles,” and that it hopes to add more compatible vehicles in the future.

Other new Android Auto features that are coming soon include an option to have the car-friendly interface automatically launch when an Android phone is connected to the vehicle, a new play button on the homescreen to start music playback with a “single tap,” a new search icon to quickly find music, and new smart reply options for text messages.

New widgets are also coming to the Android phone screen for the YouTube Music, Google Play Books, and Google Photos apps. The music widget offers playback controls and access to recently played tracks, while the books widget gives shortcuts to your library. There’s also a new Google Photos widget rolling out next week that can be set to specifically show pictures of select people and pets from your library. As well as a new widget, Google Photos’ Memories feature will also start showing curated photos and videos of events like New Years Eve within the standard photo grid interface.

Google’s “Family Bell” feature, its alarm-like reminder system that can be broadcast from smart speakers and displays, is also being updated to work on mobile devices.

Finally, Google has also provided an update on the rollout of its new permissions-reset feature on older Android phones, which automatically turns off permissions for apps you haven’t used in a while. The feature is already available for devices running Android 11 and above but will now expand to devices running Android 6 and up “starting next month,” the company says, indicating a January rollout. It previously said the expansion would begin rolling out in December.

As is typical with these kinds of feature drops from Google, these new options are releasing in a variety of different timeframes, ranging from “today” for the BMW car key feature to the “coming months” for the Android Auto voice search and smart replies features.

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