Google is working on new gestures that require an “Aware” sensor, possibly for the Pixel 4
It’s that time of the year again. The Google Pixel 4 leaks are back on the menu. Just yesterday, the first credible leak of the Pixel 4 possibly revealed the design, and it sure looks like Google is going the 2019 iPhone route. Now earlier today, 9to5Google published an article suggesting that the Pixel 4 may integrate the Project Soli radar chip that was first announced way back during Google I/O 2015. This rumor lines up with an in-development feature we’ve been monitoring since the first Android Q beta, so we’re finally ready to share what we’ve found.
In summary, Google is working on a pair of new gestures in Android Q. The two new gestures are called “Skip” and “Silence” and they’re likely controls for media playback, although the gestures are far from complete so there’s no way to activate them to test for ourselves. Furthermore, the new gestures require a new “aware” sensor that isn’t defined on any current Google Pixel device, so it’s possible that the new gestures will debut on the Pixel 4 if it has this “aware” sensor. Given what we know of Project Soli, it’s possible that the Soli radar chip will provide this new “aware” capability.
Per 9to5Google, Google demonstrated Soli again at I/O 2016, showing actions like controlling the interface of a Wear OS smartwatch with a gesture or stopping music playback on a smart speaker. In late 2018, the FCC approved Google’s use of Soli to operate “at higher power levels than currently allowed” as the technology poses a small risk of harm and is in the public interest to allow. Thus, it’s been rumored that Google will pack a Soli chip in a future consumer product, which could be the Google Pixel 4.
Android Q beta 3 and 4 on the Google Pixel smartphones include a lot of code for a new “Aware” feature that, if supported, enable the use of new Silence and Skip gestures. The feature is currently incomplete as the strings and assets are merely placeholders. Nonetheless, here’s what we found:
Aware in Settings
Within the Settings APK, Google has added multiple classes to determine whether to show or hide any settings related to the “Aware” sensor. The following must be defined:
ro.vendor.aware_availablemust be set to true;
config_awareSettingAvailablemust be set to true;
Settings.Global.aware_allowedmust be set to true
This is all checked by the
AwareFeatureProviderGoogleImpl class in
com.google.android.settings.aware. I’ve tried enabling all of these and launching the new Aware-related activities in Settings (
com.google.android.settings.aware.AwareAssistSettingsActivity) but to no avail.
Two classes in SystemUI have been updated—
com.google.android.systemui.statusbar.phone.StatusBarGoogle—that are responsible for updating the position of icons in the status bar and ambient display/lock screen. Notably, the first class now checks whether the “Aware” feature is enabled and also whether the “Skip” gesture is enabled. It also checks whether music is actively playing, interestingly. A method in the second class has a new check for whether Aware is supported, too.
Skip and Silence Gestures
There are a few new classes in Settings for the Skip and Silence gestures, for example
com.google.android.settings.aware, but besides the checks for the respective preferences there’s no actual implementation yet. The Skip gesture is enabled by making
Settings.secure.skip_gesture true, and the Silence gesture is enabled by making
Before today’s Project Soli rumor, I didn’t know why the new gestures, which were seemingly for basic music controls, needed an entirely new sensor. However, if Google is integrating a new chip on the Pixel 4 for touchless gestures, then it’s possible that the new Pixel will let you control music playback without needing to talk to or touch your phone. We’ll continue digging into this “Aware” sensor to hopefully find more evidence linking it to Project Soli. We’re entering prime leak season for the next Pixel, though, so expect to hear a lot more in the coming weeks.