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Comment: Pixel 4 will bring some major moves for Google software

Every year, the most popular smartphone leaks are all about the hardware. Our own traffic numbers show that people are most interested in looks at the physical form — even if they’re blurry images of phones in anti-leak cases that show essentially nothing. Pixel is more about software advances than most other Android phones, and that’s shaping up to be true about Pixel 4 as much as ever…

The Pixel — like every other Android phone — will of course bring the annual Android advancements. Many of those we already know about since Android 10 is very much out and available for the current lineup of Pixel devices. But the Pixel also tends to bring with it some software changes and improvements that are either exclusive to the Pixel or mark a major transition.

Google Assistant

The first of these this year will be the Google Assistant, which has come with new features and functionality with just about every Pixel release. This year is different, though — the Assistant is arriving at its “second generation.”

It might feel unusual to assign a generational successor to a service like the Assistant, but I think that’s an apt description of this year’s changes. With the Pixel 4, using the Assistant is going to feel much more like seamlessly interacting with AI and less like issuing isolated commands.

Google first showed this off at Google I/O 2019, and the demo was even conducted on a device covered in a thick case, more than likely a prototype Google Pixel 4.

We got another glimpse at this “second generation” Assistant in a leaked ad for the phone. In that ad, Google shows off using the phone to seamlessly search for a photo, send it to a friend, and send a text, all without having to say “Okay Google” in between commands. With time, this new on-device Assistant will allow you to essentially control your device with your voice. It’s still speculation as to how useful that actually is.

This functionality is likely to be Google Pixel-exclusive for quite a while; in fact, Google already confirmed that it will come to the Pixel 4 first. With time, though, this does seem like a transition that is more so marked by the Pixel 4 launch than a feature that’s truly exclusive. It seems likely it will come to third-party phones within a year or so.

YouTube Music

Another transition that is definitely not a Pixel exclusive but still marked by the Pixel 4 launch is the long-time-coming move from Google Play Music to YouTube Music. In today’s leaked video (the same video that gave us a glimpse at the new Assistant), it’s obvious that Google is putting YouTube Music front and center.

Does this mean that Google Play Music will be killed off on the day that Google launches the Pixel 4? No. Google has repeatedly said that it is working hard to reproduce longstanding Google Play Music functionality in YouTube Music before forcing all users over to the new service, and this launch won’t change that. It’s also worth noting that YouTube Music is still a ways away from being a fully suitable replacement.

It does mean, though, that Google is making it clear that YouTube Music is officially its sanctioned music streaming offering. We have heard from a source that Google is planning to release a somewhat significant update to YouTube Music alongside the Pixel 4, too, so be on the lookout for that.

Soli ‘Motion Sense’ and gestures

The addition of the Soli radar sensor to the Pixel 4, which might seem mostly to do with hardware, is also a big move on the software side. As you can see in the video above, Google apparently thinks that using it to control your music (YouTube Music, to be exact) is one of the more compelling use cases. Whether or not this is a gimmick is yet to be seen.

Pixel 4 will be the first device with Soli, powering our new Motion Sense features to allow you to skip songs, snooze alarms, and silence phone calls, just by waving your hand. These capabilities are just the start, and just as Pixels get better over time, Motion Sense will evolve as well.

Google does say that other Motion Sense functions will include the ability to snooze alarms and silence phone calls. Those two functions are ubiquitous to all smartphones, but the Pixel 4 will let you interact with that core functionality in brand new ways. Assuming Motion Sense isn’t a gimmick and sticks around for future Pixel phones, that’s a pretty big software transition.

Google Pay, more

Another software thing to keep an eye out — and this might be news to some — is that Google seems primed to make some moves with its Google Pay payments service.

Google built an option in Android 10 to show Google Pay cards in the power menu. That, despite appearing nearly complete, did not launch on modern Pixel phones with Android 10. Our guess is that it will launch with Pixel 4.

We’ve also heard that a “Google Card” of some sorts could come alongside the Pixel 4, but to be perfectly clear, we aren’t sure if it’s a credit card à la Apple Card or just a rebirthed Google Wallet card. This is dubious information at best for now, but it’s something to watch.

There are many other ways in which the Pixel 4 will be a move forward for Google software. As mentioned, there’s all the features shipping with Android 10. But we also exclusively reported on two other software advancements coming to the Pixel 4 last week. There’s improved Night Sight and a new “Motion Mode” in the camera app, and the Assistant will hold your on-hold calls for you.

There are some software improvements and transitions we don’t even know about yet — so stay tuned over the next month as the Pixel 4 launch draws nearer, and we learn more about how it will stand out from the crowd.

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