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Skip the screen: Android 11 has a secret way to get stuff done

Google may have kept one of Android 11’s most intriguing features under wraps on the update’s first preview. Originally discovered by XDA Developers, Android 11 has a new gesture code-named ‘Columbus’ that can be triggered by double-tapping the back of Google Pixel phones.

The gesture allows users to easily perform a handful of actions like launching the camera app or invoking the Google Assistant by simply tapping the rear of a Google Pixel twice. At the moment, it can be linked to a range of essential actions including dismissing a timer, controlling media playback, silencing an alarm or an incoming phone call, and more. On top of that, XDA Developers says you can even configure it to launch an app of your choice.

The Columbus gesture sounds like the sort of feature you will end up accidentally triggering while holding the phone or when it’s lying in your pocket. To prevent that from happening, Google will reportedly engineer a couple of flags or “gates” to ensure you’re actually trying to use it. For instance, it will check whether the phone is connected to a power outlet. In addition, Google may bundle a slider to tweak  the sensitivity of the feature, just as it does with the Google Pixel’s Active Edge ability.

As per 9to5Google, this feature gathers data from the phone’s gyroscope and accelerometer sensors to detect the taps — which is why Google will likely be able to bring it to all the Google Pixel models. In a demo video shared by XDA Developers, the Columbus gesture also seems to work through phone cases such as Google’s own Fabric models.

It’s unclear when Google will roll this out. Early tests suggest it’s still in relatively early stages and there’s still a lot of work left, especially with how accurately it senses the consecutive taps.

Android 11 itself is in early stages for now and there’s a good chance Google may drop  this feature before it ever makes it to the public. Besides, except for the first-gen models, Google Pixel phones already have features such as Active Edge that are able to trigger quick actions.

We expect to hear more about Columbus gestures and the rest of the Android 11 features in May at Google’s I/O developer conference.

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Shubham Agarwal
Shubham Agarwal is a freelance technology journalist from Ahmedabad, India. His work has previously appeared in Firstpost…
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