Google on Monday officially announced Android 9 Pie, the next iteration of the world’s most popular operating system that introduces a large number of additions and changes, including a new focus on “digital wellbeing,” what’s essentially a novel approach to OS and app development meant to help users find a better balance between the real world and smartphone use. The Digital Wellbeing initiative is a collection of many ideas, apps, and features, all of which are meant to help users gain new insights into the manner in which they use their devices and alter it if they deem doing so necessary, though the new ecosystem won’t be available outside of a Pixel-specific beta until this fall.
With the ultimate Digital Wellbeing goal being reducing the time one spends on their Android smartphone, Google is now introducing a broad range of functionalities meant to help users accomplish things faster. App Actions are one such addition, having been designed to predict one’s behavior and recommend actions they would have performed anyway such as starting a Google Maps navigation route, playing an audiobook, or reviewing emails at certain points in the day. Android 9 Pie will also be upgraded with Slices this fall, with that feature being meant to predict one’s actions as well, albeit solely through the Google Search tab which will allow users to interact with select app functionalities such as hailing a Lyft without fully launching them. Redesigned Quick Settings are also part of the package, having been envisioned as the fastest method of controlling the basic OS features to date. As the vast majority of Google’s Digital Wellbeing additions are powered by the company’s machine learning and other artificial intelligence technologies, Android 9 Pie should become better at anticipating your actions the more you use it, allowing you to gradually increase the amount of time you save on everyday tasks performed through your smartphone.
The Digital Wellbeing program will also include features such as a new Do Not Disturb mode that doesn’t just silence sounds but also eliminates all visual distractions and an App Timer that allows users to attach time usage limits to apps and notifies them when the thereof are exceeded with a grayed-out home screen icon. Another new addition is Wind Down, a mobile functionality that simultaneously launches the Do Not Disturb and Night Light modes, transitioning the display of an Android 9 Pie device to a grayscale composition, placing less strain on one’s eyes once it’s time for bed. Following the same train of thought, the OS is debuting its own take on Apple’s iOS gestures with the goal of accelerating system navigation even further; e.g. swiping up from anywhere will launch the Recents menu which now also supports Smart Text Selection, allowing you to receive action recommendations based on any text you selected. The gestures themselves aren’t officially launching as part of the Digital Wellbeing initiative and will be available in Android 9 Pie from day one, Google confirmed.
The program itself will first be coming to the Pixel smartphones this fall, with third-party handsets being set to receive it later this year. Handsets introduced as part of the Android One initiative may receive precedence during the wider rollout of Google’s Digital Wellbeing tools, as suggested by the wording of the company’s Monday announcement. Pixel devices running Android 9 Pie can already access the beta versions of the latest features, with anyone interested in trying them out being able to sign up for the beta program by using the email address associated with their Google Play account. The Digital Wellbeing services will receive a new dedicated menu in the system Settings app from where users will be able to tweak their behavior and review insights into their smartphone usage.