Pixel’s new satellite feature could show people where you are on Google Maps

Recent leaks claim Google is working on further integrating satellite connectivity to their Pixel phones and could introduce support for the tech in Google Maps. This information comes from two industry insiders: AssembleDebug who shared his findings with PiunikaWeb and Nail Sadykov over on Telegram. Beginning with the former, users will apparently be able to share their location with others via satellite connection.

Hints of the location-sharing tool were found in the strings of code on the latest Google Maps beta. It’s unknown exactly how it’ll work. The report doesn’t go into detail. They do, however, say people “will be able to update their location” in the app every 15 minutes to maintain accuracy. But there’s a catch – you can only refresh your whereabouts “up to five times a day.” It makes sense why Google would implement some sort of restrictions. 

This is supposed to be an emergency, potentially life-saving feature akin to Emergency SOS on the iPhone and Google may not want people messing around with it.

Setting up a satellite connection

As for the other update, Nail Sadykov states he found evidence of something called the Android Satellite Pointing UI.

It appears to be a help guide for Pixel that’ll teach people how to connect their smartphone to an orbiting satellite. A video posted to the unofficial Google News channel on Telegram shows how the process could work. 

Users will have to hold their phone in front of them and physically move it around to find a satellite. Once found, you’ll need to keep moving the device until a blue satellite icon reaches the middle of an on-screen circle and stays there for several seconds. Holding the icon in place allows the device to establish connection. If you don’t connect, you’ll receive an on-screen message telling you the session failed. 

Pixel's new satellite connectivity guide

(Image credit: Nail Sadykov)

Sadykov goes on to say the guide will be a part of the Pixel’s “Adaptive Connectivity Service (ACS) app”. It’s unclear if he meant the currently available feature or if there will be a new app solely for ACS. 

He says it’ll be possible to minimize the window into a floating widget on the home page so you can continue texting while trying to establish a connection. When it’s all done, Pixel owners can see Satellite SOS running by swiping down on Quick Settings. You’ll also receive a short message in the menu telling you to avoid buildings, trees, and mountains to ensure a clear view of the sky and not interrupt service.

Potential arrival date

An arrival date for everything you see here is unknown, although both sources believe their respective features will launch on the Pixel 9. The two groups mention a third leak from April 15 about the Pixel 9 series possibly receiving the Samsung Modem 5400 to enable satellite connectivity. The same satellite icon (albeit red) and guide animations from Sadykov’s post were found in the earlier report. PiunikaWeb also mentions seeing the same symbol.

So what we’re seeing today could be the fruits of this new labor – at least potentially. Things could always change at the last minute. Be sure to take all this info with a grain of salt.

While we have you, check out TechRadar's roundup of the best Pixel phones for 2024.

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Google Maps AI upgrades could solve your EV charging headaches

It’s a big day for Google Maps. First, the 3D buildings layer is rolling out to all Android users after months of waiting. And now we’re learning the app is expanding its eco-friendly features by introducing new ways to find EV charging stations and “lower-carbon travel alternatives”. The former, according to the announcement, aims to help electric vehicle owners map out those long road trips for the summer.

First, text summaries will appear in Google Maps describing the exact location of a nearby charging station. The tool utilizes artificial intelligence to take “helpful information from user reviews” to build directions below the name of a charger. As the company explains, you'll see step-by-step instructions telling you to drive down into an underground parking lot, follow the signs, and turn right just before you exit to find a station. 

The company explains that since it sources from the community, generated summaries are “accurate and up-to-date”. To continue feeding the feature, reviews for charging stations will ask for extra details from the type of plug you used to how long you spent waiting.

New Google Maps features

(Image credit: Google)

While driving in your EV, Google Maps will highlight nearby chargers on your car's dashboard display. Indicators provide the name of the station, how many ports are open at a given time, and the ports' charging speeds.

Lastly, Google Maps will recommend the best charging locations for people taking multi-stop trips. The suggestions it makes depend on your EV’s battery level. For example, if the car is fully charged, the app will point out stations nearer your destination rather than the ones closer to you. 

Everything you see here is scheduled to roll out within the coming months, but their availability differs. Review summaries will be available on the mobile app while the charging station indicators and suggestions will be exclusive to vehicles with built-in Google software.

Charging stations appearing on Google Maps trip

(Image credit: Google)

Google Search's travel update

The other half of the patch will see Google Maps make “public transit or walking suggestions” below driving routes  – so long as travel times are “practical.” It won’t recommend you hop on a bus if it takes longer to go from point A to point B. This feature is receiving a limited rollout as it’s only being released for around 15 cities around the world including London, Paris, and Sydney.

Google Maps new public transit recommendations

(Image credit: Google)

Google Search is also getting a travel-centric update. The search engine began adding information for long-distance train routes into results back in 2022. Moving forward, these details will include schedules and ticket prices with a purchase link on the side. What’s more, long-distance bus routes are going to be present too. 

The new train data on Search is now available across 38 countries such as the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and Spain. The bus route info, on the other hand, is seeing a more limited release as it'll only show up in 15 global regions, including the United States, France, and Germany.

Be sure to check out TechRadar's list of the 10 things you didn't know Google Maps could do if you want to learn about all the neat tricks.

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Google adds biometric verification to Play Store to keep your in-store wallet safe

Google has been emailing Android users about an update to the Play Store allowing you to enable biometric verification for purchases. We got the message over the weekend buried in our inbox. It states users can set fingerprint or facial recognition on the digital storefront as long as they have a mobile device that supports the technology. Once set up, “you’ll be asked to verify it’s you with biometrics” every time you buy something on the platform. 

We can confirm the update is live as it appeared on our phone. To turn it on, open the Play Store app then tap Settings near the bottom. Expand Purchase Verification and toggle the switch to activate Biometric Verification. The storefront will then ask you to type in your password to confirm the setting change. 

It’s important to mention that the final step will change within the coming weeks. According to the email, Google will let users use biometrics instead of requiring them to enter their account password.

The purpose of this feature is to seemingly provide an extra layer of safety to protect yourself against unauthorized transactions in case your phone is ever compromised. You don’t have to use a password anymore, although you will always have the option.

Google Play Store's new biometric verification

(Image credit: Future)

Minor, yet important detrails

There are a few minor details you should know regarding the feature. 

At a glance, it seems the biometric verification will primarily live on the Play Store. We attempted to purchase an ebook and were met with a fingerprint reader to authenticate our identity before checkout. Then we discovered the security feature will appear on third-party apps, but its presence on them varies. 

We purchased items for the game Arknights on our Android phone to see if a biometric verification reader popped up. It didn’t. The checkout went through without any hindrance. However, when we signed up for a three-month trial on Amazon Music, a Play Store message showed up asking if we would like to enable biometrics for future purchases. 

This leads us to believe that some apps will support the new verification method while others won’t. It may depend on whether or not a developer decides to support the security fixture on their product. 

Do note this has been our personal experience with the tool. It may operate differently for you. Google didn’t provide much information in their email or Play Store Help page. Of course, we reached out to the tech giant for clarification and will update the story if we learn anything new.

If you're looking for a great new app to download, be sure to check out the best 10 Android apps of 2023 according to Google.

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Google Search on Android might get a nifty Gemini switch and put AI at your fingertips

Gemini is lining up to become an even bigger part of the Android ecosystem as a toggle switch for the AI may soon appear on the official Google app. Evidence of this update was discovered in a recent beta by industry insider AssembleDebug who then shared his findings with news site Pianika Web

The feature could appear as a toggle switch right above the search bar. Flipping the switch causes the standard Search interface to morph into the Gemini interface where you can enter a prompt, talk to the model, or upload an image. According to Android Authority, turning on the AI launches a window asking permission to make the switch, assuming you haven't already. 

If this sounds familiar, that’s because the Google app on iOS has had the same function since early February. Activating the feature on either operating system has Gemini replace Google Assistant as your go-to helper on the internet. 

Gemini's new role

You can hop between the two at any time. It’s not a permanent fixture or anything – at least not right now. Google has been making its AI more prominent on smartphones and its first-party platforms. Recently, hints emerged of Gemini possibly gaining a summarization tool as well as reply suggestions on Gmail.

It is possible to have the Gemini toggle switch appear on your Android phone. AssembleDebug published a step-by-step guide on TheSpAndroid, however, the process will take you a long time. First, you’ll need a rooted smartphone running at least Android 12 which is a complicated process in of itself. We have a guide explaining how to root your mobile device if you're interested in checking that out. Then you’ll need the latest Google App beta from the Play Store, the GMS Flags app from GitHub, and Gemini on your device.

Even if you follow all of these instructions, there’s still a chance it may not work, so you’re probably better off waiting for the switch to officially roll out. 

No word on when that’ll happen. Although we could see the feature make its official debut during next month’s Google I/O 2024 event. The tech giant is cooking up something big and we can’t wait to see what it is. 

While you wait, check out TechRadar's list of the best Android phones for 2024.

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ChatGPT just took a big step towards becoming the next Google with its new account-free version

The most widely available (and free) version of ChatGPT, ChatGPT-3.5, is being made available to use without having to create and log into a personal account. That means you can have conversations with the AI chatbot without it being tied to personal details like your email. However, OpenAI, the tech organization behind ChatGPT, limits what users can do without registering for an account. For example, unregistered users will be limited in the kinds of questions they can ask and in their access to advanced features. 

This means there are still some benefits to making and using a ChatGPT account, especially if you’re a regular user. OpenAI writes in an official blog post that this change is intended to make it easy for people to try out ChatGPT and get a taste of what modern AI can do, without going through the sign-up process. 

In its announcement post on April 1, 2024, OpenAI explained that it’s rolling out the change gradually, so if you want to try it for yourself and can’t yet, don’t panic. When speaking to PCMag, an OpenAI spokesperson explained that this change is in the spirit of OpenAI’s overall mission to make it easier for people “to experience ChatGPT and the benefits of AI.”

Woman sitting by window, legs outstretched, with laptop

(Image credit: Shutterstock/number-one)

To create an OpenAI account or not to create an OpenAI account

If you don’t want your entries into the AI chatbot to be tied to the details you would have to disclose when setting up an account, such as your birthday, phone number, and email address, then this is a great development. That said, lots of people create dummy accounts to be able to use apps and web services, so I don’t think it’s that hard to circumvent, but you’d have to have multiple emails and phone numbers to ‘burn’ for this purpose. 

OpenAI does have a disclaimer that states that it is storing your inputs to potentially use to improve ChatGPT by default whether you’re signed in or not, which I suspected was the case. It also states that you can turn this off via ChatGPT’s settings, and this can be done whether you have an account or not.

If you do choose to make an account, you get some useful benefits, including being able to see your previous conversations with the chatbot, link others to specific conversations you’ve had, make use of the newly-introduced voice conversational features, custom instructions, and the ability to upgrade to ChatGPT Plus, the premium subscription tier of ChatGPT which allows users to use GPT-4 (its latest large language learning (LLM) model). 

If you decide not to create an account and forgo these features, you can expect to see the same chat interface that users with accounts use. OpenAI will also be putting in additional content safeguards for users who aren’t logged in, detailing that it’s put in measures to block prompts and generated responses in more categories and topics. Its announcement post didn’t include any examples of the types of topics or categories that will get this treatment, however.

Man holding a phone which is displaying ChatGPT is, prototype artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI

(Image credit: Shutterstock/R Photography Background)

An invitation to users, a power play to rivals?

I think this is an interesting change that will possibly tempt more people to try ChatGPT, and when they try it for the first time, it can seem pretty impressive. It allows OpenAI to give users a glimpse of its capabilities, which I imagine will convince some people to make accounts and access its additional features. 

This will continue expanding ChatGPT’s user pool that may choose to go on and become ChatGPT Plus paid subscribers. Perhaps this is a strategy that will pay off for OpenAI, and it might institute a sort of pass-it-down approach through the tiers as it introduces new generations of its models.

This easier user accessibility could mean the type of user growth that could see OpenAI become as commonplace as Google products in the near future. One of Google Search’s appeals, for example, is that you could just fire up your browser and make a query in an instant. It’s a user-centric way of doing things, and if OpenAI can do something similar by making it that easy to use ChatGPT, then things could get seriously interesting.


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Google may have been storing your incognito browsing data and now they’ve agreed to delete it

Bad news: Google's apparently been storing your Chrome incognito browsing data.

Good news. They've finally agreed to delete it.

In a court document filed Monday (April 1) and spotted by BGR, Google has agreed to settle a nearly four-year-old class-action suit that challenged Google's private browsing (a.k.a. “Incognito Mode) data collection policies.

The original lawsuit claimed, “Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy…even when Google users launch a web browser with 'private browsing mode' activated…Google nevertheless tracks the users’ browsing data and other identifying information.”

Google didn't entirely deny the claims, stating in 2020 that while incognito browsing mode data isn't saved locally, “websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity during your session.”

Now, the search giant has, in principle at least, agreed to several adjustments in its messaging, data collection, and storage practices. However, if you thought this class action lawsuit might result in a small check arriving on your doorstep, you may be disappointed. The filing states that there will be “no release of monetary claims,” though individuals retain the right to sue Google for damages.

Among the changes Google will agree to when it appears before a judge on July 30:

  • Deletion or remediation of all collected data
  • Rewrite its incognito browser disclosures
  • Google must add, for the next five years at least, the ability in incognito mode to block third-party cookies by default.
  • Google has to delete private-browsing detection bits.

Google Chrome Incognito Mode splash page

You probably want to read this splash page before browsing in incognito mode. (Image credit: Future)

While this is probably good news and a big deal (Chrome currently has over 65% browser market share), the fact that incognito browsing never meant what you thought it did might be unnerving for some users.

Now, no one is judging what you browse in incognito mode but it's probably good guidance to stop assuming that whatever you see while browsing in that mode is not being detected or “seen” in some way by others.

It's not that random people or Google employees are looking at your browser history, Instead, Google's been doing what it always does, acting as a data middle-man to enable ad-targeting and some continuity in your browsing experience either by Google or through partners who use cookies to ensure that what you see on subsequent pages reflects what you were looking at on the page before.

While the filing notes that Google has already undertaken some of these changes, it's not clear if the messaging on the incognito splash pages has changed.

At the top, it reminds you that others using the same device won't see your browsing history and it notes that Chrome doesn't in this mode store browser history, cookies, and form information. It also notes, however, that your activity might be visible to the sites you visit, someone in control of your account (a school or employer), and your ISP.

It's not clear if the changes Google's set to make will impact any of that.

As for how Google feels about all this, the settlement notes that “Google supports final approval of the settlement, but disagrees with the legal and factual characterizations contained in the Motion.”

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Google Gemini AI looks like it’s coming to Android tablets and could coexist with Google Assistant (for now)

Google’s new generative AI model, Gemini, is coming to Android tablets. Gemini AI has been observed running on a Google Pixel Tablet, confirming that Gemini can exist on a device alongside Google Assistant… for the time being, at least. Currently, Google Gemini is available to run on Android phones, and it’s expected that it will eventually replace Google Assistant, Google’s current virtual assistant that’s used for voice commands.

When Gemini is installed on Android phones, users would be prompted to choose between using Gemini and Google Assistant. It’s unknown if this restriction will apply to tablets when Gemini finally arrives for them – though at the moment it appears not. 

Man sitting at a table working on a laptop

(Image credit: Shutterstock/GaudiLab)

A discovery in Google Search's code

The news was brought to us via 9to5Google, which did an in-depth report on the latest beta version (15.12) of the Google Search app in the Google Play Store and discovered it contains code referring to using Gemini AI on a “tablet,” and would offer the following features: 

The code also shows that the Google app will host Gemini AI on tablets, instead of a standalone app that currently exists for Android phones. Google might be planning on a separate Gemini app for tablets and possibly other devices, especially if its plans to phase out Google Assistant are still in place. 

9to5Google also warns that this is still as it’s still a beta version of the Google Search app, Google can still change its mind and not roll out these features.

A woman using an Android phone.

(Image credit: Shutterstock/brizmaker)

Where does Google Assistant stand?

When 9to5Google activated Gemini on a Pixel Tablet, it found that Google Assistant and Gemini would function simultaneously. Gemini for Android tablets is yet to be finalized, so Google might implement a similar restriction that prevents both Gemini and Google Assistant running at the same time on tablets. When both were installed and activated, and the voice command “Hey Google” was used, Google Assistant was brought up instead of Gemini.

This in turn contradicted screenshots of the setup screen showing that Gemini will take precedence over Google Assistant if users choose to use it.

The two digital assistants don’t have the same features yet and we know that the Pixel Tablet was designed to act as a smart display that uses Google Assistant when docked. Because Google Assistant will be used when someone asks Gemini to do something it’s unable to do, we may see the two assistants running in parallel for the time being, until Gemini has all of Google Assistant's capabilities, such as smart home features. 

Meanwhile, Android Authority reports that the Gemini experience on the Pixel Tablet is akin to the Pixel Fold and predicts that Google’s tablets will be the first Android to gain Gemini capabilities. This makes sense, as Google may want to use Gemini exclusivity to encourage more people to buy Pixel tablets in the future. The Android tablet market is a highly competitive one, and advanced AI capabilities may help Pixel tablets stand out.


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Google Drive is finally getting a dark mode – and this makes me happy

It looks like Google Drive could finally get a dark mode option for its web version, meaning perusing documents could become a lot easier on the eye for people who like their web pages muted rather than a searing while. 

This information comes courtesy of 9to5Google, which reports that one of its Google accounts received an update that prompts users to try out a “New Dark mode” so that they can “enjoy Drive in the dark”. The option to trigger this dark mode is reportedly under the ‘Appearance’ option in the Settings menu of Drive, but I’ve not seen this in either my personal Drive or my workspace Drive. 

However, from the images 9to5Google provided, it looks like the dark mode in Drive is rolling out bit by bit, and will be a fairly straightforward integration of the mode that one can find in Android, Chrome and other Google apps. No icons are changed in terms of design or color, rather the background switches from white to black, with text flipping to white – all fairly standard. 

There’s some difference in shading between the inner portion of Drive, where one will find documents and files, compared to the sidebar and search bar; the former is black, while the latter is slightly grey in tone. 

Is this a huge deal? Not really, but for people who work late into the evening, the ability to switch from light mode to dark can be a blessing on tired eyes. And having a dark mode can offer a more pleasant experience for some people in general, regardless of the time of the day. 

I’m definitely up for more dark mode options in Google services and beyond. Where once I thought dark mode was overhyped, I started using it on some of the best Android phones and my iPhone 15 Pro Max and haven't really looked back – it makes scrolling through various apps in bed more comfortable, though common sense would say you’re better of putting your phone down when in bed and picking up a book instead. 

My hope is that by bringing dark mode Drive, Google will better integrate dark options into more of its apps and services, especially in Gmail, which has a dark mode but won’t apply it to actual emails when using the web versions, which is jarring. So fingers crossed for a more ubiquitous dark mode from Google.

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Google Drive could add a smart new way to keep your files organized

Finding your way around your Google Drive files could be about to get a lot easier: there's evidence that you'll soon be able to categorize your files into different groups, like banking and work, to keep them better organized.

This is according to hidden code spotted in the Google Drive app by TheSpAndroid (via Android Police). Apps often lay the coding groundwork for future features, before those features go live and are announced to users.

As per the app, the categories you'll be able to make use of are Auto, Banking, Expenses, Home, IDs, Insurance, Medical, Pets, School, Taxes, Travel, and Work. From this leak, it doesn't seem as though custom labels will be allowed, but those 12 categories cover the business of modern life pretty well.

As Android Police points out, these categories are similar to the labeling system that companies can use in Google Workspace. However, this should be available to individual users too, across Android, iOS, and the web.

How it'll work

Google Drive category feature leak

How the upcoming feature might look (Image credit: TheSpAndroid)

Here's how it's going to work: From the Home tab in the Android app, you'll be able to tap the three dots next to a file, then choose from the categories list. A file can be in multiple categories, potentially making the feature more useful than the current folders system.

We don't get any indication here about when the switch might be flipped to give users access to file categories: the report on TheSpAndroid says “it won't come very soon”, so presumably there's still work to do before it's ready for the public.

Given Google's recent and very committed push into artificial intelligence features, it's possible that some kind of AI processing might be involved as well, in categorizing files for you (or at least suggesting categories based on a file name or its contents). Suggested categories do appear in the screens produced by the hidden code.

We now know that Google I/O 2024 is getting underway on May 14 this year, so in between all the Android 15 and Pixel 8a news we might get an announcement or two regarding new Google Drive features – and of course we'll bring you all the news from the event.

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Google I/O 2024 will take place on May 14 – here’s what to expect

The big day has been set: Google I/O 2024 will kick off on Tuesday, May 14 at 10am PST (1pm ET / 6pm BST) and continue into the following day.

Assuming history repeats itself, the keynote will be hosted by CEO Sundar Pichai at the Shoreline Amphitheatre up in Mountain View, California. That’s where last year’s event took place and the year before that. It’ll be broadcast in front of a live studio audience, and of course everyone will be able to watch the event as it unfolds via livestream.

No one knows what will be revealed at Google I/O 2024. The tech giant suddenly dropped the news out of blue after posting an interactive puzzle game on its website. But despite the limited information, we can speculate about what we might see at the event, because the company has been dropping hints these past few months or so. 

Potential Gemini updates 

The most obvious pick here is artificial intelligence. Even though we’re only about a quarter in, 2024 has been a big year for Google AI. We saw the launch of the Gemini models, the brand’s very own LLM, as well as the rebranding of several other AIs under the Gemini moniker. Expect to see multiple demonstrations of what the tech will be able do in the near future. We could also find out more information on the mysterious Gemma, which is slated to be the open-source version of big brother Gemini.

It’s possible Pichar, or one of the hosts, will talk about improving their AI’s performance. If you’re not aware, Gemini has had some issues lately regarding, shall we say, inaccurate depictions of ethnic groups. Plus, hallucinations remain a problem.

Google Gemini AI

(Image credit: Google)

New hardware and Android 15's debut

When it comes to hardware, Google I/O 2024 will most likely see the debut of the midrange Pixel 8A. I/O 2023 saw the reveal of the Pixel 7a, so it makes sense that the company will repeat the trick with its successor. 

Recent leaks claim the smartphone will run on the Tensor 3 chipset and that the Pixel 8a will be a little bigger than the previous generation. Certain aspects of the Pixel 8a's potential design do concern us, like the large bezels around the display.

We should also expect to see the full debut of Android 15. Mid-February saw the launch of the Android 15 developer preview, giving the world its first opportunity to get its hands on the upcoming OS. Very little is known about the OS, but we are expecting to see lock screen widgets make their long-awaited return plus the ability to save pairs of apps, among other things. 

Google Pixel 8 review back angled case

(Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

We're almost certain to see new AI developments, the Pixel 8a and Android 15 at Google I/O 2024, but elsewhere we're very much in speculation territory. 

For instance, we could see the reveal of new hardware like the Pixel Watch 3 or something, but don’t hold your breath. As our sister site Tom's Guide points out, the Pixel Watch 2 wasn’t announced at I/O 2023; it was instead unveiled during the Made By Google event in October. 

Same goes for the Pixel Tablet 2. The company is probably holding onto that for another day. If anything, I/O 2024 will feature smaller changes to other Google products. New Workspace tools, new Android 14 features, things of that nature. Nothing too crazy. It’s going to be Gemini’s day in the sun.

Online registration for the event is open and free for everyone. It lets you stay up-to-date on the schedule and what content will show up. Be aware that registering will require you to make a developer profile for Google, though.

There's still two month away. In the meantime, check out TechRadar's list of the best Pixel phones for 2024.

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