Google took the stage at this year’s I/O event for about two hours, announcing new and exciting products like Pixel 6a, Pixel 7, and the Pixel Watch. While hardware tends to steal the show at these events, the team certainly didn’t gloss over Android: between fresh Android 13 features and general Android updates, Google had quite a bit to talk about on the software front.
During its Android segment, Google revealed they think of the OS in terms of “three big themes”: “Phone at the Centre,” “Extending Beyond the Phone,” and “Better Together.” You’ll see those three themes below, and what was specifically announced in each category.
Google is implementing RCS and Digital ID
Google repeated themselves a bit at the “Phone at the Centre” start here, going over some of the new Android 13 features we’ve already seen from the first beta. We were shown features such as app icons being able to change their colours to match your wallpaper using Material You; the new media control panel featuring a fun “groovy” playback bar; and the ability to personalise different languages per app.
The company also announced that Android 13 sports a ton of new security and privacy features, but didn’t go into much detail on specifics. They also highlighted their efforts to work with carriers to implement RCS, the next-gen text-messaging protocol that brings rich messaging features — like end-to-end encryption, wifi messaging, and read receipts — to replace SMS. The company took a moment to heavily hint they hope Apple adopts RCS for its iPhones, which sticks to SMS only for all non-iMessage messaging.
The first big new feature dropped at Google I/O this year, however, was a good one: The company is revamping Google Wallet to include digital ID, specifically digital driver’s licenses. This feature mirrors Apple’s digital ID program for its Wallet app, which is soon to roll out. When both platforms’ features are live, you’ll be able to use your phone to “show” your ID in participating states. It isn’t just a picture of your ID, either: You authenticate the ID through either NFC or a QR code, to prove the ID is active and yours.
Google also announced Emergency SOS is coming to Wear OS, allowing you to easily connect emergency services from your Android-powered smartwatch in the event of an emergency. The company is also expanding Android’s earthquake warning system, utilising the accelerometer from your phone to warn you of an advancing earthquake before it happens.
Android apps will be optimised for tablet-sized displays
Moving on from smartphones, Google “Extended Beyond the Phone,” as promised, and turned its attention to Android on tablets. The company announced it wants to optimise Android apps for tablet-sized displays, and will start with more than 20 popular apps to be updated imminently. These apps include big players like TikTok, Facebook, Canva, and Google Messages. You’ll notice changes to these apps’ UI to better accommodate the larger screen size: TikTok, for example, will use part of the screen for videos, and another for comments, so you can comfortably view both at once.
Google also showed off an iPadOS-like window management system: You can drag and drop apps from the bottom dock or app list for instant split-screen.
Android devices should work more seamlessly together now
Finally, Google took some time to talk about how it wants your various Android devices to work seamlessly together — or to be “Better Together.” It announced casting will be expanding to new devices, such as Chromebooks and cars. Phone Hub will also be expanded, so you’ll be able to stream your phone’s messaging app to your Chromebook.
My personal favourite new feature is the ability to copy something from your phone and paste it directly on your tablet. This works great throughout Apple’s ecosystem, whether you’re using an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, so I’m excited to see this option finally come to Android.
Google also highlighted a Fair Pair expansion that will allow other devices like TVs to pair with your headphones and smart devices as seamlessly as you’d expect from Fast Pair. Speaking of pairing, Google announced “Matter,” a solution that connects Google Nest to tons of brands and products for easy pairing, which will arrive this fall.
To wrap up the Android announcements, Google dropped a new Android 13 beta today for Pixel devices. This beta will be the second for Android 13, and likely includes the new features discussed today. Whether you are looking to install the new update from beta 1, or you’re interested in trying out the beta for the first time, check out our instructions for installing Android 13 on your Pixel here.