Google Announces Impressive Set of Pixel “Feature Drops”

Posted on December 9, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 11 Comments

Google revealed today that it will make the Pixel family of smartphones better over time with so-called “feature drops.” The first one is arriving later in December.

“Your phone should get better over time,” Google’s Shenaz Zack writes in the announcement. “Your Pixel automatically updates regularly with fixes and improvements. Now, your Pixel will also get bigger updates in new Pixel feature drops.  Our first one, coming this month, includes a new way to capture portraits, easier Duo calls, and automatic call screening.”

Here’s what’s coming in the first Pixel feature drop:

Post-snap photo blur. Today, Pixel owners have to choose portrait mode when taking a shot in order to get a background blur effect. But now, you’ll be able to blur the background at any time later. This works for new photos as well as photos that were taken years ago.

No more robocalls. The Call Screen feature, available on Pixel 4 in the US, helps you automatically screen unknown callers and filter out robocalls before the phone even rings. If the call isn’t a robocall, the phone will ring a few moments later and tell you who is calling and why. This feature works on-device and does not use Wi-Fi or data, Google says, ensuring your privacy.

Improved video calls on Duo. Google Duo is picking up a new auto-framing feature on Pixel 4 that will keep your face centered during video calls even while you’re moving, and will adjust automatically if another person joins you in the shot. Additionally, Duo will use machine learning to reduce video choppiness, even on bad connections. And on Pixel 2, 3, and 4, Duo will offer a portrait filter that gently blurs the background.

Better location quality in Maps. Pixel 4 users will also “get amazingly fast accuracy in Google Maps with improved on-device computing for much better location quality,” Google says.

Better memory management. Pixel 4 is getting a memory management update that will proactively compress cached applications so that users can more ably run multiple applications at the same time. This includes games, streaming content and more, Google says.

In addition to these new features, Google says that it is bringing some Pixel 4 features to older Pixels, too. The Recorder app is now available on all supported Pixels. Pixel 3 and 3a users will get Live Caption functionality. Focus mode is out of beta and now rolling out to Pixel owners via the Digital Wellbeing app. The “Flip to Shhh” feature is also coming to Digital Wellbeing on Pixel 2 and 2 XL. And those with a Pixel 4 in the UK, Canada, Ireland, Singapore, and Australia will soon get (English-only) access to the new Google Assistant experience.

Google says you can expect these features within “the coming weeks.”

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Comments (12)

12 responses to “Google Announces Impressive Set of Pixel “Feature Drops””

  1. nicholas_kathrein

    Sounds like a plan. This is really how all companies should do software. No more massive yearly updates. Just stream them over when they are actually done and ready instead of half baked to meet a deadline. Maybe include a shortcut to a video on the app and how to use it as a desktop shortcut with an auto delete once watched. Also I'm happy if they want to ship a bata feature just tell us it's beta. Allow us to reply back on these beta apps so we can give are input.

  2. warren

    You'd think Google would have the self-awareness to realize that "feature drop" is not a good name for them to use, given their long and well-documented history of dropping features.


  3. jdmp10

    Google has sort of put themselves in a precarious position with the Pixel line and being the purveyor of Android as a whole. I get that they now have a hardware division and sell their own phones that directly compete with their Android partners and Apple but making exclusive Pixel software features as part of their flavor of Android I think rubs all the other Android partners the wrong way. I don't recall Microsoft doing anything unique within Windows that you must own a Surface device to take advantage of. I mean primarily I am miffed at better memory management being some Pixel only feature. Android has a long (and still existing for many) memory management problem across all brands and flavors of Android but yet Google is working on fixes but only targeting Pixel devices? That's seriously wrong in so many ways. Instead of making these changes to the whole of Android to make the image of the whole platform better, they are more worried about selling units while the rest of their partners who made Android what it is, not the Nexus or Pixel line, fending for their own solutions.

    • ontariopundit

      In reply to jdmp10:

      Their partners like Samsung layer Android with all sorts of extra stuff to make it exclusive to their brand.


      They don't share these developments with others so I don't think there's any reason to complain if Google makes Pixel-only features.


      The problem with Android is that support is awful. Google is sadly one of the best but that's not saying much since Apple's worst is years longer than Google's best.


      Despite all the great promise of Android all we get as consumers is a big middle finger.


      Why should Google help lowlife like Samsung and Huawei with improved features when these two companies refuse to provide more than one or two years of support, if that, and, the handful of good things they have don't get shared!

      • jdmp10

        In reply to OntarioPundit:


        I don't think you understood the point I was trying to make. Samsung doesn't make or run the platform that Google does. Google's position as both a hardware maker/OEM and the software maker puts them in a bad spot because they have both departments under one roof (those developing Android for all and the Pixel team). Samsung only makes the hardware and is within their agreement to Google to modify Android any way they see fit. Google though making exclusive Pixel features that can benefit all of the Android ecosystem to make the whole platform look better against iOS is a bigger no-brainer than trying to eek out a few more device sales by marketing features to potential Pixel buyers.

        • Winner

          In reply to jdmp10:

          Microsoft makes Windows and also sells PCs which compete against their partners.

        • smartin

          In reply to jdmp10:

          Google makes an open source OS that these others can benefit from and do their own thing with. Apple does nothing of the sort. That Google adds features to their own phones is fine. Samsung has the money to make similar improvements if they choose. Providing an entire industry with a way to compete against Apple is enough. Google is under no obligation to give them everything in the process.

  4. systembuilder

    Seems like this is now a huge conflict of interest. Google is holding back features from Android so that its phones have higher visibility and reviews in the marketplace. They are making proprietary chips (the HDR chip) for the cameras so that no other Android phone maker can match the performance of a Google phone. They used to offer the Pixel line of phones to drive up competition (drive down prices) for mid-high end phones, but now they are just charging a ton and offering whatever improvements they make to Android, into their phones. Looks like it's goodbye phone-making for Samsung, LG, and other Chinese copycat phone makers, and hello Anti-trust regulators for Google.


    It's also possible that Android phones will fragment the way that MS-DOS, DR-DOS, and all the other DOS's fragmented in the early 1980's, with floppy disks you couldn't even move between DOS computers (i.e. IBM, DEC) because every platform was proprietary.

  5. DaddyBrownJr

    I guess I have to think about upgrading my OG Pixel XL...

  6. codymesh

    shouldn't basic things like memory management improvements be updates to Android as a whole rather than be Pixel-specific? I hope they're not improving the Pixel experience at the expense of the Android ecosystem.

  7. dougga

    I am considering leaving my Iphone for an Android and was considering Samsung and wasn't thinking of the Pixel much because of some bad reviews. I may hold out for a while to see if this promise pans out.

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