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Google unwraps several new and festive holiday features for Android

Google is closing out 2021 with a variety of new features for Android fans that are aimed at helping people get more out of this holiday season. The search giant rounded up the new collection of Android features in a blog post, and they include some new Android Auto enhancements, updated widgets for its media apps, and more.

First off, Google is introducing a new Family Bell feature to encourage togetherness and help everyone stay on track. It’s basically a Google Assistant feature that can be set up from an Android phone, speaker, or smart display that alerts you and everyone else in your family when it’s time to do something important.


To give the feature a festive spin, Google also has some suggested bells for holiday-related activities, like watering the Christmas tree, getting together for a family movie night, or supporting a local cause. Google has even published a video showing how it works.

New widgets for Google Play Books, YouTube Music, and Google Photos will provide quicker access to holiday favorites, whether that’s an audiobook you’re listening to, your Christmas playlist, or photos of family and friends. Chief among them is the new People & Pets widget for Google Photos, which will begin rolling out next week. With this new widget, you’ll be able to put your family — both the two- and four-legged members — right on your home screen.

This will also be accompanied by a new collection of Memories in Google Photos that is designed to pull out your best photographic moments from holidays like New Year’s Eve or Halloween, or significant milestones like birthdays and graduations. You’ll be able to fully customize how these Memories appear, or even remove them entirely.

Hitting the Road

Android Auto.

Android Auto is also getting some exciting updates, including auto-launching capabilities to make sure it’s always ready to go when you jump into the car. Google has also announced that several important road safety updates are coming soon, such as smart replies for text messages via Google Assistant, a more accessible always-on play button on the Home Screen, and the ability to use your voice to search for music in your favorite media apps.

If you’re a Pixel 6- or Galaxy S21-equipped BMW driver, you’ll also finally be able to use your smartphone as a digital car key, similar to the feature that Apple added for iPhone-toting BMW owners a couple of years back. BMW was one of the first adopters of Apple CarPlay, so it’s fair to say the automaker has a cozier relationship with the iPhone maker. It only opened the doors to Android Auto last year, so it’s not all that surprising that it’s taken a bit longer to bring it to the latest Android smartphones.

Other changes

More folks will be getting a security boost for their neglected apps with the expansion of Google’s auto-reset feature. This disables permissions for those apps you haven’t used in a while, prompting you to confirm them the next time you actually do open the app. Google says that this will be rolling out to billions more devices in the coming weeks — basically, any device that uses Google Play services on Android 6.0 or higher.

Google has one more fun holiday feature in store, too. For those times when a single emoji just can’t communicate exactly what you’re feeling, Emoji Kitchen will let you combine several emoji into stickers to share with friends and family. For example, selecting a standard expressive yellow emoji and an animal emoji will combine the two to put that expression on your furry avatar. The new Emoji Kitchen sticker feature is rolling out to Gboard Beta users now, and will come to all Gboard users in the next few weeks.

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Jesse Hollington
Jesse has been a technology enthusiast for his entire life — he probably would have been born with an iPhone in his hand…
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