Android Pie new features – AI, App Actions, ‘slices’, digital well-being – could change the way you use your phone

The latest version of Google’s mobile operating system aims to take a lot of the swiping and tapping out of the user experience through AI-based suggestions, faster app access – and even getting you to put your phone down

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 5:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 5:35pm

Google is rolling out Android Pie, the latest version of its operating system, to phones across the globe – starting with its own Pixel devices.

While Google officially started the roll-out on Monday, most won’t see their phones update this week unless they have a Pixel or select models from smartphone makers including Sony, Essential, Xiaomi and Vivo.

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Google did not specify when it will come to other phone makers; that decision is ultimately up to each phone company. In the past, it has taken months for roll-outs to get to the wider reaches of the Android ecosystem. In fact, the last Google Android OS update – released in February – is currently only running on 12 per cent of Android phones, according to Google’s metrics.

However, with Android the world’s most dominant operating system, changes to it forecast how most people will be using their phones in the future. Here are some key things to know about Android Pie.

1. AI? Aye-aye

Google has been pretty clear that it sees its future lying in developing better artificial intelligence. Proof of that belief is all over Android Pie, from its features that read your battery consumption and adjust to your needs, to the “adaptive brightness” feature that does the same for the intensity of your screen.

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Google has also been working on its digital assistant – Google Assistant – to give people better answers to their questions and greater hands-free control over their phones. Those little assists are also showing up in text form with what Google calls App Actions, which automatically suggest activities for you based on the time of day and what you’ve done with your phone before.

Google offers this example: “Say it’s Tuesday morning and you’re preparing for your commute: you’ll be suggested actions like navigating to work on Google Maps or resuming an audiobook with Google Play Books. These little prompts will appear just below the search bar on your page of apps.”

2. Finding your way around

Android Pie also sports some cosmetic changes that are in part aimed at making it easier to search through your phone. The biggest change to the way Android looks is the navigation system, which now consists on one on-screen software button, rather than the three icons that have served as Android guides in the past.

With that single button, Android users will now have to swipe up to see their most recently used apps, or to switch back to the last app they had open.

3. Digital well-being

Google has also introduced its own set of tools aimed at giving people information on how they’re using their phones. These tools are still in early testing, even for those who are able to download the operating system. Google said in a blog post that they will fully launch in autumn but did not give a more specific time frame.

Those who sign up for the beta will see features such as detailed breakdowns of how often they’re using particular apps. They’ll also get access to features such as “Wind Down” mode, which will put your phone into black-and-white mode at a prescribed bedtime.

4. A deeper slice

Android Pie will also have a new feature called app slices. A “slice” is essentially a preview of an app: type something such as “Lyft” in the search bar, and you’ll get a look at the cost and time estimate for a ride near you without having to open the app.

The goal here seems to be getting you into apps faster, but also to have more of your phone’s navigation come in through the search bar – rather than having you flip through pages of applications. It will roll out later this year.

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Overall, Android Pie shakes up a lot about how we navigate our phones, which also happens to give Google more ways to touch your smartphone experience. Through App Actions, search and voice, some of the swiping and tapping to which we’ve all become accustomed will be eliminated.