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Google Unveils New Android Q Features: Live Captions, Dark Theme and More

When it arrives later this year, Android Q will feature beefed-up privacy settings, new additions to the Digital Wellbeing feature introduced in last year's OS update, and an innovative feature that will add live closed-captioning to videos.

Android Q's Dark Theme

Android Q's Dark Theme

We already knew some of the features coming to Android Q, after Google released a developer beta of its upcoming mobile OS update back in March. But Google's annual I/O developer conference gives Google a public stage to talk about changes to Android, so we're getting a clearer picture of what new features and enhancements coming to our Android phones.

MORE: Here Are the 23 Phones That Support the Android Q Beta

Steph Cuthbertson, Google's director for Android, grouped the changes coming in Android Q to three categories — innovation, security and privacy and digital well-being.

Closed Captioning

Easily, the most innovative change coming in Android Q is a closed-captioning feature that will add real-time captions to videos in apps and on the web. All of the captioning heavy-lifting will be done on your device — in fact, Google demoed closed captioning on a device set to airplane mode.

Android Q supports real-time closed captions.

Android Q supports real-time closed captions.

Cuthbertson said the feature is powered by a speech recognition breakthrough that Google made. It relies on a recurrent neural net that's 80MB instead of the 2GB setup that used to power real-time translation. That allows the feature to live on your phone, instead of tapping the cloud and taking more time.

Smart Reply

Another potential time-saver coming to Android Q is Smart Reply, which seems to draw heavily on the automated reply feature Google built into Gmail. In Android Q's implementation, Smart Reply will work with all Android messaging apps, letting you quickly send a reply with a tap.

But Google is extending Android Q's Smart Reply to include actions as well. Say that when friends text you an address, you usually copy it and paste it into the Maps app on your phone. Smart Reply will recognize that behavior, and suggest it as an action you can take the next time you get texted an address, saving you some extra taps.

Dark Theme

As had long been rumored, Android Q is adding a Dark Theme that you'll be able to turn on via a quick settings tile. Dark Theme will also turn on automatically when you enable the battery-saving feature in Android Q, since one of the main benefits of switching to a dark mode is that your display consumes less power.

Foldable Phones and 5G

Cuthbertson talked up two big trends coming to smartphones this year — foldable displays and 5G connectivity. Android is being updated to work seamlessly with foldable phones, supporting features like multitasking, where you can run multiple apps on a larger display, and screen continuity, where apps resume running as you open and close the phone's screen. We've already seen these features in action with Samsung's Galaxy Fold, at least before Samsung postponed the launch of that device due to issues with its screen.

As for 5G, Cuthbertson didn't provide specifics on how Android Q will support this next-generation network standing that will deliver faster speeds and lower latency. But she did point out that the dozen 5G-ready phones expected this year will all be running Android.

Security and privacy

Android Q is promising 50 features that are focused on security and privacy, Cuthbertson said, starting with with a change to the mobile OS's settings. Privacy is now in the top level of the Settings screen, giving you quick access to location sharing, activity data and ad settings.

Speaking of location sharing, look for finer-grain controls on how and when you share your location. You can designate whether an app can access your location at all times or just when you're using the app, a feature Apple added in iOS 11. Android Q will also notify you when an app you're not actively using is trying to access your location, giving you a chance to manage that setting.

To quicken the pace of security updates — a long-standing complaint about Android — Android Q will enable direct over-the-air updates for security modules that will install without requiring you to reboot your phone. Think of it as similar to the way apps update in the background on the phone.

Digital Wellbeing: Focus Mode and Parental Controls

Digital Wellbeing was one of the centerpiece features added to Android in last year's Pie update, adding tools aimed at helping you manage screen time. Google considers it a success so far: Cuthbertson said that 90% of Digital Wellbeing users felt that app timers helped them stick to their goal, while the Wind Down feature caused a 27% drop in nighttime phone use.

Focus Mode in Android Q will block apps when you need to concentrate.

Focus Mode in Android Q will block apps when you need to concentrate.

Android Q adds a Focus mode to Digital Wellbeing, in which you'll be able to designate certain apps as off limits when you need to buckle down and get work down. Enable Focus mode, and you'll be able to block out games, social networking apps, and anything else that might distract you. Focus mode is coming to Android 9 Pie devices, too, Cuthbertson said.

Google also plans to build parental controls right into the device settings in Android Q. Among the tools at parents' disposal will be the ability to set daily screen time limits including limits on specific apps, view the amount of time kids spend on each app and set device bedtimes. A bonus time feature lets you allow kids to have extra time, presumably if they ask nicely.

Getting the Android Q beta

Last year marked a first for Google, as it made the Android Pie beta available to devices outside of Google's own phones. That's continuing with Android Q, which will run on 23 devices from a dozen phone makers, including LG, Sony, OnePlus, Asus, Essential and Huawei.

To get the beta, go to Google's developer website and find the phone you wish to install it on. Click the link underneath that device and follow Google's instructions.

A word of caution, though: this is still a beta, and the target audience is still developers. We'd recommend against installing Android Q on the phone you rely on for everyday use, at least until later on in the beta process.

There's no official launch date for Android Q, but if Google follows its past behavior, you can expect the final version to be ready in late summer.

Image Credits: Google