Turning the page on Google Play Books’ first decade

With more time on my hands during this pandemic, I’ve learned that I’m not a gardener (yield from 7 tomato plants–> 2 teeny tomatoes), nor am I a furniture refinisher (but it seemed so straightforward on YouTube!). I am, however, a reader. I’ve indulged more in this lifelong hobby in 2020, finally getting around to books that have been in my Google Play Books library for a long time, and discovering new titles.  

This week marks Google’s 10th year as a digital bookstore. On December 6, 2010, we launched Google eBooks in the U.S., so that people could read books on any device and with recommendations tailored to your interests. Since then, our bookstore—now Google Play Books—has expanded to more than 75 countries and our book catalog has grown to nearly 7 million titles. 

Over the years, we’ve used Google’s technology to expand our offerings and meet the needs of our readers and publishers. Bubble Zoom makes it easier to read comics on your phone by using machine learning to identify and expand speech bubbles. And, you can now access hundreds of thousands of audiobooks in our store, including a selection of free public domain audiobooks created with our auto-narration technology.  

Google Play Books has welcomed publishers of all sizes, becoming an important platform for our tens of thousands of publishing partners to grow their audience worldwide. Google Play Books is a success because of the publishers and book lovers we’ve brought together. 

As we look back on the last decade, here’s a list of our top fiction and nonfiction ebooks on Google Play Books each year in the U.S. (I’m proud to report that I’ve read 7 of 11 of the fiction titles!)

Top-selling fiction ebooks

Top-selling nonfiction ebooks

Books are more than just sources of information; they offer us connection, comfort, inspiration and joy—especially this year. As we recognize our tenth anniversary of Google’s digital bookstore, we’re thankful for all the bibliophiles who have made Google Play Books the hub of their reading life.

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Use Voice Access to control your Android device with your voice

In 2018, we launched Voice Access, an Android app that lets you control your phone using your voice. The ability to use your phone hands-free has been helpful to people with disabilities, and also those without.

Today, on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we’re rolling out an updated version of Voice Access, available in Beta, that is easier to use and available to more people. This version of Voice Access, which was previously available on Android 11, is now available globally to devices running Android 6.0 and above. 

Thanks to machine learning and a refreshed interface, it’s easier to use your voice to control your phone. Previously, Voice Access would draw numbers over your phone screen so you could   say commands like “tap 1,” “scroll down on 5” and so on. With the new version, you can ask for labels instead of numbers.  Say “show labels” and use them to voice commands so it’s easier for you to remember and use again later.

This update also adds new commands to help you get things done faster in your favorite apps. Instead of saying “tap search” and then “type kittens,” you can simply say “search for kittens” inside YouTube, Photos and many other apps where you’re looking for a kitten fix. 

When you first install or upgrade to the new version, you can choose to have Voice Access start whenever you use your phone  Or if you like, you can just say  “Hey Google, Voice Access” when you need it.

Voice Access was designed for and with people with motor disabilities (like ALS, spinal cord injuries or arthritis). But it’s also helpful for anyone with a temporary disability, like a broken arm, or whose hands are otherwise occupied, like if they’re cooking. Regardless of the reason, the updated Voice Access app makes it easier for anyone to use their phones hands-free! 

You can download Voice Access on Google Play and try the new version out by joining the Beta today. 

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6 new ways Android can help this holiday season

With the holidays around the corner, we’re sharing six new Google features for Android—a few more ways your phone gets more helpful over time, even outside of major OS updates. Whether you’re texting holiday greetings to loved ones or winding down with a book, here’s how Android can help.

1. Mix up more of your favorite emoji

Emoji Kitchen gets new stickers and mixing experiences

Click on the image above to see a video of the latest mixing experience coming to Emoji Kitchen 

With Emoji Kitchen on Gboard, people have mixed their favorite emoji into customized stickers over 3 billion times since it was released earlier this year. With this latest update, Emoji Kitchen is going from hundreds of unique design combinations to over 14,000. Each mix makes it easier for you to express yourself with a little extra flair. Now you can simply tap two emoji to quickly see suggested combinations, or double tap on one emoji to reveal some more intense emotions. 

Already available on Gboard beta, the new version of Emoji Kitchen will be available on Android 6.0 and above over the coming weeks. Download Gboard on Google Play to enjoy the new emoji kitchen stickers this holiday season. ❄️️⛄️

2. Enjoy more stories as audiobooks

Auto-narrated audiobooks give voices to more ebooks

Click on the image above to see a video of how Google Play is bringing more audiobooks to Android

The holiday season is the perfect time to wind down and catch up on some books, and audiobooks make it even more convenient to immerse yourself in a story. But not all books, like the one written by your favorite indie author, are converted into an audiobook. Now Google Play, working with publishers in the U.S. and the UK, will use auto-generated narrators so books without audio versions can be narrated—meaning you’ll have more audio titles to choose from on Play Store. The publisher tool to create auto-narrated audiobooks is currently in beta, but it will roll out to all publishers in early 2021.

3. Use Voice Access to navigate your device 

Easily use and navigate your phone by speaking out loud with Voice Access

Click on the image above to see a video showing how Voice Access can help you navigate your smartphone

Built with people with motor disabilities in mind, Voice Access lets you control your phone using your voice. Now using machine learning technology, you can add labels to the screens of your Android apps to help you work within them with your voice. For example, you can say “open Photos”, “tap Search”, “tap Your Map” to see a map of all your photos. This makes navigation convenient and hands-free, using just your voice. Previously rolled out on Android 11, this new version of Voice Access is now available globally on all devices running Android 6.0 and above. You can download Voice Access on Google Play and try the new version out by joining the Beta today.

4. Get around with the Go Tab

New Go Tab in Google Maps is available today

Click on the image above to see the video of the new Go Tab in Google Maps

With the new Go Tab in Google Maps, you can more easily navigate to frequently-visited places with just one tap. Pin your favorite driving destinations like school or a grocery store to quickly see directions, live traffic trends, disruptions on your route, and an accurate ETA—all without typing the place’s address. If you take public transit, you can pin specific routes, which will let you see accurate departure and arrival times, alerts from your local transit agency, and an up-to-date ETA right from the Go Tab. You can even pin multiple routes (including a driving route and a transit route) to the same destination to see which one will get you there most efficiently. The Go Tab starts rolling out on Android and iOS in the coming weeks. 

Be sure to check out other helpful Google Maps features on Android, like live transit crowdedness and Assistant driving mode to help you navigate and get things done this holiday season.

5. Android Auto expands to more countries

Android Auto is rolling out to more countries

Over the next few months, Android Auto will be expanding to new countries, bringing your favorite apps and services from your phone onto your car display. With Android Auto, you can talk to Google to play music, send messages, get directions, and more, so you can keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. With phones running Android 10 and above, all you need to do to get started is plug your Android phone into a compatible car. For Android 9 and earlier phones, you can download the app.

6. Share your favorite apps with Nearby Share

Send and receive apps without cell or wifi connection

An upcoming update to Nearby Share will let you share apps from Google Play with the people around you with an Android phone, even if you don’t have a cell or Wi-Fi connection. Simply open Google Play, go to the “Share Apps” menu in “My Apps & Games,” select the apps you want to share, and let your friend accept the incoming apps. This update will roll out in the coming weeks.

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Emoji Kitchen cooks up a new batch of mashups

In a year when most of our relationships happen at a distance, digital communication can play a role in keeping us connected. When my brother shares pictures of his new puppy (when will I ever get to meet her?), Heart Eyes 😍 falls short of conveying just how cute she is. And not a day goes by when someone doesn’t send me a meme—and sometimes they’re so on point that Tears of Joy 😂 just won’t cut it as a response.

Since we introduced Emoji Kitchen earlier this year with a few hundred emoji combinations, people have shared more than 3 billion stickers to express the range of emotions they’ve felt in 2020. With today’s update, we’re expanding to more than 14,000 combinations and improving the mixing experience so you can convey your feelings in more ways.

alt=”A GIF showing how to mix emoji with Emoji Kitchen.”>

Click on the image above to see how to mix emoji in Emoji Kitchen

When we first launched, tapping on an emoji yielded a curated selection of designs to express yourself with a little extra zhuzh. Now you have more control and can pick two of any smileys (and then some!) to create a wider array of expressions. Combine Earth 🌍 with Face with Medical Mask 😷 to convey the state of the world, or Fire 🔥 with Smiling Face with Sunglasses 😎  for when ‘this is fine’.

alt=”A Combine Earth emoji mixed with a Face with Medical Mask emoji creates an emoji kitchen sticker of an earth wearing a mask, and a Smiling Face with Sunglasses emoji mixed with a Fire emoji creates an emoji kitchen sticker of a flame wearing fiery sunglasses”>

Other times, one heart ❤️ isn’t enough so you throw in a few extra hearts to convey the depth of your affection ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️. You can now amplify the sentiment with Emoji Kitchen when the occasion arises. Just double tap thinking face 🤔 and get a very introspective thinker. Or double tap rolling on the floor laughing 🤣 and your emoji will be falling apart at the seams.

alt=”A variety of combinations that are possible with Emoji Kitchen when you mix two of the same emoji including a very introspective thinker, a 1000 emoji, and an emoji with very big eyes.”>

The new Emoji Kitchen is available in Gboard beta today, and coming to all Gboard users in the coming weeks. We can’t wait to see what you make!

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A closer look at 2020’s best apps and games from Google Play

Today, Google Play announced the winners of our Best of 2020 awards, a celebration of apps, games, books, movies and other top content. As we close out this year, we’re taking a look at the apps reshaping our world, and the games giving us an opportunity to explore new ones. 

Apps: a year of personal growth

2020 changed the way we all live, work, and go about the routines that keep us grounded. It was a year of self-reflection and improvement, and many apps played a role in helping us find a path forward.

In the U.S., Chris Hemsworth helped us find our healthy “Centr” by connecting us with trainers, chefs and wellbeing experts, while Intellect helped us focus on our traits, habits, and behaviors to overcome personal challenges with the help of a digital companion, through psychological training.

At the end of each day, we needed time to relax and recharge. So it’s only fitting that Disney+ claimed the U.S. Users’ Choice award for allowing us to dive into the Disney vault–Scrooge McDuck style. We sat back and relaxed with a wealth of content, from old fan favorites to new releases like The Mandalorian. To cap it off, our editors selected Loóna as this year’s Best App for rethinking how we ease into sleep and helping us unwind.

Games: a year captivated by casual 

This year’s selection of games varied more than ever, proving that there’s something for everyone to enjoy. 

From embarking on breathtaking adventures in The Gardens Between, to channeling our inner wizards in Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells, then exploring the meaning of friendship through Sky: Children of the Light, 2020’s best games in the U.S. warmed our hearts and challenged our minds. 

The game that embodied this sentiment best is the one that brought us back to Bikini Bottom. That’s right, you rocked the vote and crowned SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off the 2020 U.S. Users’ Choice winner. And Genshin Impact impressed our editors, winning Best Game for giving users a wondrous world to explore and countless mysteries to unravel. 

Discover this year’sbest games and best apps, and check out the full list of winners in the Best of 2020 section of the Play Store. 

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Google Play’s Best of 2020

This year, the world came together over games, apps, movies and books, even when we were apart. Together, Google Play fans dove into four new and compelling novellas in “If It Bleeds,” as each took us intriguing places with the master of horror himself, Stephen King. We took one last ride with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in the third installment of the “Bad Boys” universe. We embarked on a relaxing journey with “Loóna,” the app that guided us to better sleep through immersive stories. We also explored new lands as games like “Genshin Impact” gave us a stunning peek into the world of Teyvat. These titles are part of Google Play’s Best of 2020, and there are even more games and apps to celebrate.

Explore the lists below to see what titles users and Google Play editors loved–and check out the full lists in the Best of 2020 section of the Play Store.

Users’ Choice 2020 (U.S.)

Best Game of 2020 (U.S.): Genshin Impact

Best App of 2020 (U.S.): Loóna: Bedtime Calm & Relax

Best Movies of 2020 – Top Five (U.S.)

See the full list of our favorite movies of 2020 on Google Play

Best Books of 2020 – Top Five (U.S.)

See the full list of our favorite books of 2020 on Google Play

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5 ways to make the most of an Android tablet for the holidays

Anyone else been glued to their tablet lately? You’re not alone. People around the world are spending 70 percent more time on their Android tablets since the beginning of the year, and in the U.S., Samsung, Lenovo and Walmart (Onn) tablet purchases have been up 30 percent. If you’re looking to get into the tablet game (or if you’re already right here with us), here are five ways you can make the most of your Android tablet: 

1. Up your productivity game

Multitask on your Android tablet

Tablets can help boost your productivity in your work-from-home routine. Because Android supports multi-window and split-screen modes, you can use up to three apps at once on the large tablet screen on devices like the Galaxy Tab S7 and S7+.  

Say you’re planning a virtual holiday party—you can browse for party ideas on Chrome, watch baking videos on YouTube and set up a Calendar invite for party attendees all at the same time. If you’re feeling creative, use a stylus to plan out your holiday decorations in a popular drawing app like Tayasui Sketches, or check out Clip Studio Paint on Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 and S7+ (it’ll be available to all Android and Chrome OS users in mid-December).

2. Watch holiday classics, or find something new

Wrapped in a blanket with your favorite holiday beverage in hand, your Android tablet is the perfect screen for enjoying TV and movies. Your tablet’s Google TV app can help you easily find and watch classic holiday movies or catch up on your favorite shows from across your streaming apps. If you want to save it for later or watch with family and friends on the TV (via Chromecast with Google TV), add titles to your Watchlist. Your purchased shows and movies will always be available in your Library tab. 

3. Choose from one million tablet-ready apps on the Play Store

There are more than one million tablet-optimized apps on the Play Store.

Apps and games are what makes your tablet so useful and fun. Once you’ve unboxed your new Android tablet, you can browse the Play Store and choose from more than one million apps for tablets, with more coming every day. With higher resolution and larger screens, your favorite shows and games will look and play better on a tablet. Whether it’s staying in touch with your friends on Facebook or trying to find the impostor in Among Us, your new Android tablet has what you need to stay connected, entertained and productive.

4. Browse enriching content for kids

To find the right apps for your kids, head to the Kids tab on Google Play, which features high-quality “Teacher approved” apps for kids, or Google Kids Space, which recommends quality content based on interests kids choose. Kids Space nurtures kids’ curiosity, with a library of teacher-approved apps and handpicked books from Google Play, and videos that spark creativity and offline play from YouTube Kids. Kids Space is available on select Android tablets including the new Lenovo Smart Tab M10 HD Gen 2, and will be coming to more models soon. And with the Family Link app, you’ll always be able to manage your kid’s experiences, from setting screen time limits to content safety filters, privacy controls and more. 

5. Stay connected even while social distancing

Connect with up to 32 people using Google Duo.

When you’re social distancing, there are still great ways to keep in touch that go beyond the standard phone call. With features like Family mode, AR effects and screen sharing, Google Duo offers simple and reliable video calling. Since the beginning of March, call minutes on Duo almost doubled on tablet devices. That virtual holiday party you’re planning? It will be full of good cheer with Duo, which lets you video chat up to 32 friends at a time.  

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Google Play’s Best of 2020 is back: Vote for your favorites

Google Play’s 2020 Best of awards are back—capping off a year unlike any other. Once again, we want to hear about your favorite content on Google Play. 

Starting today until November 23, you can help pick our Users’ Choice winners by voting for your favorites from a shortlist of this year’s most loved and trending apps, games, movies, and books.

To cast your vote, visit this page before submissions close on November 23. Don’t forget to come back when the Users’ Choice winners, along with the rest of the Best of 2020 picks from our Google Play editors, are announced on December 1.

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More online protection with the new VPN by Google One

We’ve all done it. You’re sitting in a cafe browsing your favorite online store and you enter your credit card number while connected to an unsecured Wi-Fi network. While convenient, a public Wi-Fi network may be less secure than your personal one. This can put your personal information at risk of theft from hackers.

To give you peace of mind that your data is safe, we’re announcing the new VPN by Google One on our 2 TB and higher plans to provide an extra layer of online protection for your Android phone. 

We already build advanced security into all our products, and the VPN extends that security to encrypt all of your phone’s online traffic, no matter what app or browser you’re using. The VPN is built into the Google One app, so with just one tap, you can rest assured knowing your connection is safe from hackers.

VPN by Google One demonstration

We’re also now rolling out Pro Sessions by Google One with VPN support. With Pro Sessions, you can schedule one-on-one online sessions with a Google expert to learn more about VPNs and how to stay safer online. You’ll get access to the VPN and Pro Sessions in addition to the 2 TB of storage and other member benefits you already get with the plan, like 10 percent back in store credit on all Google Store device purchases. Plus, if you’ve shared your 2 TB Google One plan with family members (up to five additional people), they can also enable the VPN on their own devices at no extra cost. These are just a few more ways that a Google One membership helps you get the most out of Google with more peace of mind and helpful experiences.

VPN by Google One plans

Google Store rewards give you Store credit on hardware purchases from the Google Store. This is only available in U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany and United Kingdom. One thing to note on Pro Sessions: there are limited appointments available on a first come, first served basis.

The VPN by Google One will roll out in the United States in the coming weeks through the Google One app (Android only) and will expand to more countries and to iOS, Windows and Mac in the coming months. Pro Sessions will also be available in the coming weeks to all 2 TB members in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

If you’re not already a member, you can sign up for a 2 TB Google One plan here.

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What to expect in Series 2 of the Apps, Games & Insights podcast

Can apps become the key to education?

Interest in e-learning has been growing over the last few years but, with the emergence of distance learning, it’s poised to change all types of education. In the first episode, we talk with Elliott Rayner, Head Of Product Marketing, and John Quintana, Head of Guided Learning Experiences, from online language learning developer Babbel. Elliott and John discuss how Babbel is transforming and “thinking big” about the future of education: Can apps take the place of traditional classroom education? How can we make new models of language learning effective across various needs and learning styles? 

How do you get 250 million players to take action on climate change?

The recent Green Games Jam brought together 11 games studios to find  engaging ways to educate and empower 250 million players  to take action on climate change. Jennifer Estaris, Game Director at SYBO Games and Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, Founder of Games for Good and formerly from Space Ape Games, explain what the game jam is really about and how others can raise awareness to fight climate change through their businesses. They also share new approaches to climate change education led to planting trees, saving wolves and more. 

How do you create a successful 4x strategy game?

If you ever played one of those games where you build an empire, you’ve been playing a 4x strategy game. We hear from David Eckleberry, General Manager for Star Trek Fleet Command and Vice President at Scopely, about how they successfully built a loyal player base. Alongside Howard Chen, Google Play Growth Consultant, they shed light on how to create games that find and keep players, and discuss player affinity and KPI growth.

How do you reflect humanity’s diversity in an app?

Drops CEO and Co-Founder Daniel Farkas and Chief Customer Officer Drew Banks join us to explain how they work with native speakers and language experts to bring awareness and encourage people to learn a less spoken language. Daniel and Drew also discuss their initiatives to make the app more inclusive and accessible to all, such as by reviewing the depiction of women in graphics used to support word learning.

How do businesses build quality into an app?

Imagine the scenario: after downloading a great app or game, you  find that it’s not quite the great experience you were hoping for, or worse, it keeps misbehaving and crashing. For developers and  businesses, delivering a quality app is essential for both acquiring and retaining users. To explore how developers can ensure that users are getting the quality experiences they deserve, we’re joined by Maria Neumayer, Staff Software Engineer, at food delivery service Deliveroo, who talks about how Deliveroo has adapted during COVID-19, and Shobhit Chugh, Product Manager, Firebase, who discusses how businesses can rectify quality problems in testing and production.  

Why are your favorite games getting smaller these days?

Well ok, not necessarily smaller per se, but games are being taken to the small screen.. You’ve probably  noticed that many of your favorite PC and console games are now appearing on your mobile phone and tablet. Game developers want to give you the opportunity to stay engaged with your favorite game throughout the day, whether you’re on the move, or away from your computer or games console. However, going mobile can be challenging, so we speak to Jen Donahoe, Marketing and Growth Lead – Teamfight Tactics at Riot Games who enlightens us on how they develop mobile games and keep their players happy.

How do apps help people overcome failures to achieve life goals?

It can be a struggle to change habits, such as diet and exercise, with the goal of living a healthier life. Keeping people motivated through the ups and downs of lifestyle changes is a core challenge for health and fitness app developer Lifesum. Marcus Gners, Chief Strategy Officer and Co-founder at Lifesum, together with best-selling author of “Hooked” and “Indistractable,” Nir Eyal, explore the ways apps can help make sure people don’t fall off the wagon, and remain motivated to achieve their goals.

We don’t want to give the whole game away, so we are keeping the details of our final episode under wraps. Keep an eye out for more details shortly.

How to stay tuned in

Listen to the first episode of series 2 here. Subscribe to the podcast and listen to the latest episodes on your favorite podcast platforms including Spotify, Apple, Libsyn, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast.

Also, keep an eye out on @GooglePlayDev and @AndroidDev on Twitter where we will be announcing the launch of each new episode of the Apps, Games, & Insights podcast.

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