Android update teases improved accessibility options for handwriting, facial recognition

Cartoon examples of the new features on Android phones
(Image credit: Google)

Google is launching 13 new Android features this autumn, including new accessibility features, improvements to Waze, and alerts to remind you to look up from the phone screen while walking.

The tech giant is launching two new accessibility features to help people with motor and speech impairments, the first of which, Camera Switches, allows users to navigate their phones using eye movements and facial gestures through the device's camera.

The other, Project Activate, is a new app that allows users to utilise facial gestures and eye movements to activate preset actions like speaking a phrase, playing audio, or sending a text message. Google is also bringing handwriting recognition to Lookout, an app that uses a phone’s camera to help people with low vision or blindness. It will read out both handwritten and printed text for Latin-based languages and, in response to its growing global audience, Google is adding Euro and Indian Rupee recognition within Currency mode.

The company has also built remote-control features into Android, so users can power their TVs or start their favourite show from their phone, as well as use their device’s keyboard to type to search for programmes. Reminders are also easier to access and manage in one place through voice commands, by saying “Hey Google, open my reminders”.


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Android Auto is getting an upgrade, so users can play music, games, and stay on top of work with new support for their work profile. There's a new refresh for Waze, with touchpad support, night mode and lane guidance support.

Android is also set to get Locked Folder in Google Photos, a passcode-protected space to save photos and videos separately so they don’t show up when they scroll through the platform. Gboard is getting 1,500 new stickers and users with devices running Android 11 or newer will be able to use Smart Compose to help them use machine learning to quickly complete their sentences with a swipe.

Lastly, there are improved visibility settings to Nearby Share so users can control who can discover their device and send files and a new Heads Up feature where users can get reminders to look up and stay alert when walking and using their phone, which was originally launched on Pixel earlier this year.

No release date has been given for any of these features just yet, and given there's nothing to indicate that these will be locked behind Android 12, it's likely they'll be rolled out across the remainder of 2021.

Zach Marzouk

Zach Marzouk is a former ITPro, CloudPro, and ChannelPro staff writer, covering topics like security, privacy, worker rights, and startups, primarily in the Asia Pacific and the US regions. Zach joined ITPro in 2017 where he was introduced to the world of B2B technology as a junior staff writer, before he returned to Argentina in 2018, working in communications and as a copywriter. In 2021, he made his way back to ITPro as a staff writer during the pandemic, before joining the world of freelance in 2022.