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Android adds facial gesture controls and handwriting recognition accessibility features

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Alongside new Assistant and Gboard additions

From left to right: the new Heads Up feature, Google Assistants’ Reminders hub, and facial gesture controls.
Image: Google

Google’s raft of new features coming to Android this fall includes some interesting new accessibility features. There are new facial gesture controls designed for people with motor impairments, as well as a new handwriting recognition feature for Lookout, a Google app that uses a phone’s camera to help people with low vision or blindness. There are also improvements coming for Google Assistant, Digital Wellbeing, Nearby Share, and Google’s Android keyboard.

There are two parts to Android’s facial gesture controls. Camera Switches (which has previously been spotted in Android 12’s beta) sits within Android’s existing Accessibility Suite and lets you use gestures like opening your mouth or raising your eyebrows to activate various commands. The second part is Project Activate, a standalone app that’s designed to help people communicate. Here, facial gestures can be set to trigger actions like playing audio or sending a text message.

Using facial gestures to control a weather app.
Image: Google

Meanwhile, Google says Lookout’s handwriting recognition will be able to read out Latin-based languages and is accessible from its Documents mode. Euro and Indian Rupees are also being added to the app’s Currency mode.

Beyond accessibility, Gboard is also seeing improvements. Most interesting is that on all devices running Android 11 and up, Google’s Android keyboard will be able to use Smart Compose to finish sentences, similar to what’s already possible in specific services like Google Docs and Gmail. This feature has previously been exclusive to Pixel phones. Copying and pasting is also being updated to automatically separate out separate contact information and details like phone numbers and email addresses when they’re copied in a single chunk of text. Finally, Gboard will also proactively suggest sharing a screenshot if you immediately switch to a messaging app after taking one.

The “Heads Up” Digital Wellbeing feature, which reminds people to stop looking down at their phones while they’re walking, is expanding from just Pixels to all Android phones, while asking Google Assistant to “open my reminders” now offers a one-stop-shop for managing all reminders added to the voice assistant. Nearby Share is also being updated to offer new visibility settings, letting you control who can see your device and send files. It’s a real grab bag of features that should offer something for everyone.

Google isn’t offering exact release dates for any of these features, and there’s no mention of whether any of them will be exclusive to the upcoming Android 12. So expect most of them to gradually roll out over the course of this fall, which is generally considered to run until the start of December.