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Google unlocks a treasure trove of new Android features – and one stinker

A creative image showing apps working on a range of smart devices

Google has announced a smorgasbord of new Android features set to land over the holiday season, including some really nifty updates for Android Auto.

The most exciting is the arrival of the Android digital car key feature, which allows owners of select BMW motors to use their Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, or Samsung Galaxy S21 to unlock their whip.

Originally announced back in August, a Google blog post confirmed that digital car key is available now for compatible BMW vehicles in selected countries. According to Google, that’s “all BMW 2020 and 2022 model year vehicles,” with plans to add more cars and additional manufacturers in the future.

Android Auto will now also launch automatically when you connect your Android phone to a compatible car. Additional features incoming include being able to initiate a smart reply to text messages using Google Assistant voice controls, as well as a new always-on play button on the Home screen for one-tap music playback.

Elsewhere, there are updated widgets for YouTube Music, Google Play Books and Google Photos, while Photos is also getting a new feature called Photos’ Memories, which will show you curated pics and videos from selected events like New Year’s Eve in your photo library.

On a highway to Bell…

And then there’s Family Bell, which is just plain questionable.

It’s a pushy parent’s dream, allowing select family members (or the Supreme Flatshare Leader) to set up reminder-style alerts on their Android phone, home speaker, or smart display that then gets beamed out to everyone else’s devices in the house or barked out by your communal smart home gadgets.

Google suggests this will be useful for things like reminding your kids it’s breakfast time and staying on track during the holidays. Take that, gentle knock on the door followed by real human interaction!