Earlier this month, Google rolled out the December Android security patches. The company made some changes to the format they have traditionally used for these monthly releases. Instead of listing “functional patches” on the Pixel Bulletin, Google moved them to the Pixel Community Forum. Today, the company announced another change to how Pixel devices will receive updates with the first-ever “Pixel feature drop.”
Google describes Pixel feature drops as follows:
Your Pixel automatically updates regularly with fixes and improvements. Now, your Pixel will also get bigger updates in new Pixel feature drops.
This inaugural feature drop includes a couple of great features. First, we’ll start with Google Photos. Portrait Mode is a great feature in the Google Camera app, but it does require you to proactively switch modes before snapping a photo. You will now be able to retroactively turn on Portrait Mode on Pixel devices with Google Photos.
Next up is automatic Call Screen on Pixel devices, which is something we discovered in an APK teardown. Google Assistant can automatically screen unknown callers and filter detected robocalls before your phone rings. If the call was not a robocall, your phone will ring a few moments later and show context about who is calling and why. You can find transcripts of these calls in the Dialer app. Google mentions that this is an update to Call Screen specifically on the Pixel 4.
There are a few other odds and ends included in the feature drop. Google Duo gets smoother video calls on poor connections thanks to sound prediction with machine learning and the 90Hz display on the Pixel 4 helps reduce choppiness. Duo also has a new Portrait Mode-esque filter. Memory management has been “enhanced” across all Pixel devices so you can run more apps at the same time. Google also highlighted the features that users discovered in the last security update.
So that’s it for the first Pixel feature drop. This is essentially a rebranded and much more consumer-facing approach to the “functional patches” found in security updates. Google can elaborate on the features much more and make sure users know what’s new.
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