New accessibility and sharing features are coming to Android devices

Android is introducing a clutch of new features to improve accessibility, personalization, and productivity across various devices. One of the major announcements is that Nearby Share — Google’s AirDrop competitor — is getting a much-needed update that allows users to easily send files between their own devices.

After you opt in to use the new feature on your Android phone or tablet, all transfers between these devices will be automatically accepted, even if your display is switched off.

This self-share feature has been anticipated for a few months, and while we’re happy to see that file transfers will be easier, it’s still disappointing (though totally unsurprising) that the feature is limited to Android-to-Android interactions. An official release date for self-share hasn’t been announced, but Google says the feature will arrive on devices in “the next few weeks.” (It’s not clear when exactly the other features mentioned in this update will be live.)

The new updates will also improve accessibility across various Google services. Google Drive and Keep are getting redesigned widgets for devices with larger screens that will give Android tablet users one-touch access to Docs, Slides, and Sheets files within the Google Drive widget, while the Keep widget will increase in size and font size, improving note taking for people with reduced vision.

There’s also an upgrade for Android’s sound notifications — a little-known feature that can be found within your device’s Accessibility settings.

These sound notifications were originally intended to help people with hearing impairments. Turn them on, and your Android device will listen out for sounds like fire alarms and knocks on your front door, creating a notification when it hears them. Now, users can create custom alerts by recording specific noises. So, for example, you might record the jingle your washing machine plays after finishing a cycle, and then, whenever your Android phone, watch, or tablet hears that sound, it’ll send you a notification.

For those using Google TV, the service also now has a curated library of content with audio descriptions that you can find either by searching the service manually or using the voice-controlled Google Assistant (it’s not clear when exactly this feature launched).

Google Meet users will also have access to multi-pinning during calls, enabling you to keep your attention on multiple specific people within larger group meetings — such as the main speaker and an ASL interpreter.

Google Meet is also introducing live shared experiences, such as games and co-watching on Android mobile and tablet devices. This feature can be used to play classics such as Uno, Kahoot!, and Heads Up!, as well as watch YouTube content with up to 100 people at a time.

Text messaging on Android devices is also getting an “intelligent emoji suggestions” update in Gboard, and Android will increase the available emoji for this feature by releasing new seasonal emoji mashups for Emoji Kitchen that will be available as stickers.

Finally, if you happen to have a smartwatch running Wear OS, then some additional functionality and fun are also coming your way. A Keep tile can now be added to your watch for on-the-go notetaking, and your Bitmoji can be added to your watch face. This cartoon avatar will change expressions depending on what you’re doing, the time of day, and even the weather. So, if you’re out for a run and get caught in the rain, your watch will look as miserable as you feel.