Android users are poised to receive nearly a dozen new features in the latest release of the mobile operating system, including updates designed for smartphones, tablets, Wear OS smartwatches and even Google TV devices. Alongside the launch, Google is celebrating a new RCS milestone of over 1 billion monthly active users of the SMS replacement technology — which Apple, facing regulatory pressure, has begrudgingly now agreed to support.
That figure is up from 800 million monthly active users in May 2023, Google also noted.
Among the highlights from the new version of Android are several improvements to messaging, including a beta feature called “Voice Moods” that adds a colorful background and emoji theme to your voice messages so recipients get a better sense of your emotions, whether that’s surprise, laughing, feeling loved and more.
Google Messages will also gain “Reaction Effects,” another beta feature that will create a full-screen animated emoji — somewhat similar to the message effects feature on Apple’s iMessage, but designed to react to an individual message instead of a simple thumbs up, for example.
Plus, Google’s Emoji Kitchen — the feature that lets users remix emojis into new combinations — will include new sticker combinations that can be shared as stickers via the Gboard keyboard app.
Across other Android platforms, smartwatch users will now be able to control their smart home devices and light groups from their watch’s small screen. This includes smart appliances like robot vacuums and mops. Users can also set the mood by adjusting their light groups for different themes — like focus time, reading, dinner and more. In addition, users will be able to set their Google Home status to “Home” or “Away” from their smartwatch, shutting lights off, turning cameras on and locking doors and more when leaving, and the reverse upon their return.
While not yet available at launch, another smart home feature coming soon will allow Wear OS users to start their Assistant Routines from their watch using voice commands. That way, they could say something like “commuting to work” that launches navigation, checks the weather and reads their day’s agenda from their calendar, for example.
The watch will also gain a new “Assistant At a Glance” shortcut that will show you important information like weather and travel alerts, event reminders, and more, similar to the Siri watch face on the Apple Watch.
The update additionally brings accessibility and security improvements, including an AI-powered TalkBack feature that will use AI to create a description of images that don’t have accurate text descriptions and read it aloud for blind and low-vision users. Over the next few weeks, the Live Captions calling feature, which adds captions to phone calls, will support more language and users will be able to reply during a call by texting a response.
On the security side, users will be able to set a custom PIN on their FIDO2 security keys for websites or apps that request user verification, allowing passwordless logins.
Meanwhile, Android-powered Google TV will gain more than 10 new free channels to round out the lineup, which now includes over 100 free channels featuring movies, game shows, sports and more.
Google says the features will slightly vary based on the platform and individual requirements. For example, the Wear OS updates are for Wear OS 3+, while the Live Captions update is available for Android 10+, and the Talkback update is for Android 11+.
In a separate announcement, Google also shared more Messages-specific updates, including Photomoji which turns your photos’ subject into stickers via on-device AI, another feature that’s similar to one available on iOS, Screen Effects (another feature found in iMessage), custom bubbles (changing the bubble color and background for conversations), animated emoji, user profiles and more.