Google updates Android with E2E encryption in Messages, several other new features

Google has updated its smartphone OS with some incremental, but useful, additions.

Android logo is seen displayed on a phone screen in this illustration photo taken in Tehatta, West B...
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Good news for Android users: Google is updating the operating system with several new features. They’re nothing major, but useful additions nonetheless, like end-to-end encryption in the RCS version of Messages and earthquake detection in several countries.

Secure Messages — That first one, end-to-end encrypted messaging, ensures only the sender and receiver of a message can see its contents. But it only applies to chats sent between two Android users who are both using Google’s Messages app. That means any conversations you have with someone who is using a different app, like Samsung Messages or iMessage on iOS, won’t be encrypted. Encryption in Messages also only applies to one-on-one conversations. To signify when your conversation is encrypted, Messages will display the second icon with a lock on it.

Honestly if encrypted messaging is important to you, we recommend just using a cross-platform app like Signal that is encrypted by default.

Over the next few weeks, Messages will also be getting a “star” feature. If someone sends you a text with important info, like the Wi-Fi information at your new apartment, you can simply star it, placing it into a special inbox where you can find it later. It’s the same idea as starring in Gmail. We could imagine this having various other use cases. Maybe you’d star a thoughtful text from your partner so you can look back at it later, for instance.

Anyone feel that? — Another useful update Google is adding to Android is a phone-based earthquake detection and alert system. Already live in the California, Greece, and New Zealand, the feature is being rolled out to more places that are prone to earthquake events. The new regions include Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The system uses the large install base of Android phones to act as a crowdsourced network, taking advantage of sensor hardware in the phone to detect when an abnormal event is happening.

Some other features will make your use of Android more efficient. Developers can now create Assistant shortcuts that display information from their apps directly in the Assistant dialogue. For instance, you can ask the Assistant to show your miles from sports-tracking app Strava, and a widget will appear showing your distance run or cycled for the week. If you create custom emojis that are a mashup of two different emoji, the Gboard keyboard will be able to contextually recommend them based on what you’re typing.

In the past, Google struggled to keep Android devices updated as device manufacturers received its updates and tested them for compatibility before pushing them to users. Now, Google is able to constantly update the OS with new features as much of the operating system functions as “modules” delivered through Google Play. Save for core operating system functions, it can update many user-facing features by pushing releases through its app store.

Check out Google’s blog post to learn about the other features being added to Android. Most will be available for devices running Android 6.0 or later.