Seeking aspiring designers looking to Change The Game

Though women are playing mobile games at record numbers and make up 45% of gamers, they are heavily underrepresented in the gaming industry and as protagonists in video games. At Google Play, we have a mission to make mobile gaming truly for everyone by enabling women to be celebrated and empowered as both players and creators.   

In 2017, we launched the Change The Game Design Challenge to inspire teens to turn their passion for gaming into careers. The Design Challenge has grown from just a five-winner program at its start, to now educating 100 students across the U.S. and Canada this year. Since our launch, we have been humbled by the creativity and drive of the teens who have participated in the program. Some have used their Design Challenge experience as a springboard to their gaming education in college. Others have taken the path of service, using their experience to mentor the next generation of young women in gaming. As the Design Challenge grows and reaches more applicants, what remains constant is the genuine interest and commitment our participants share for driving positive change for the industry. 

Starting today, we’ll be accepting submissions for our 2021 Change The Game Design Challenge. We’re calling on teens to become Game Changers by sharing an original game idea and a unique vision for the future of the gaming industry. With school being virtual for the past year, and with a lot of us spending more extra time at home than usual, we’re hoping applicants think of our challenge as a fun way to switch things up while learning something new.  

Much like last year, the 2021 Design Challenge will be virtual. Participants whose game ideas are chosen will be invited to an online game development workshop hosted by our partner, Girls Make Games. The workshop will consist of four sessions that will kick off in June and run through the end of the summer. At the end of the workshop, participants can expect to have made new friends and learned skills needed to create a playable game, no coding experience required. These Game Changers will also receive the materials from the workshop, a certificate of completion, custom swag and a brand-new Chromebook to help them continue to grow in their game development journey.

For a chance to participate in this workshop and join a group of innovators, applicants should fill out this entry form and share an original game idea. We’ll be reviewing entries on a rolling basis between now and July 31. The Change the Game Design Challenge is open to U.S. and Canadian residents only, subject to exceptions. For more details on submission guidelines and how to enter, please visit g.co/ctgdesignchallenge.  At Google Play, we are excited to invest in a new class of Game Changers.

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New tools make children’s books easier to read

As a parent to two young kids, bedtime stories are a big part of our evening ritual. My daughter, who’s almost 4, can now recognize all the capital letters, but she’s still learning how to identify lowercase letters and put them all together in a complete word. As we celebrate National Read Across America Day in the United States, I’m reminded of aspiring readers like my daughter, who experiences both the joys and the challenges of books. Google Play Books recently introduced a set of tools to help new readers and their families enjoy the process of learning how to read. 

Thinking about those who are learning to read

Until recently, the Google Play Books user experience was primarily designed for proficient readers. With the launches of Teacher Approved Apps and Google Kids Space in 2020, we had an opportunity to rethink what learning to read means for younger readers, their parents and anyone else who may be a beginning reader.

New reading tools to help you

Here are more details about the reading tools now available to you:

Read & listen:Listen to a book read out loud, with a choice of whether the pages turn automatically or manually.

A book featuring Sesame Street characters being read out loud through Read and Listen.

Read & listen narrates a book and highlights the text being read aloud. 

Tap to Read and Kid Friendly Dictionary Hear a word spoken out loud by tapping on any word on the book page. Read or listen to thousands of kid-friendly definitions, many of which have illustrations to support comprehension and learning.

Kid-Friendly Dictionary defining the word "Friend" for kids, with an illustration of two children talking.

With Tap to Read, users can tap a word to hear it read out loud. And Kid Friendly Dictionary defines words for a young audience, often with illustrations. 

How to access reading tools

When you are browsing in the Google Play Store or Google Play Books app, you’ll find a large catalog of books designated for ages 0-8, and the vast majority of these titles have reading tools enabled. You can also download a free sample of any children’s book to confirm if reading tools are enabled for that title before purchasing the book. In celebration of National Read Across America Day, here are some free ebooks that feature these reading tools:

  • We’re Amazing, 1-2-3!:” This Sesame Street story stars Elmo, Abby, and their friend Julia, who has autism. Together, the three pals have a delightful playdate.

  • Ara the Star Engineer:” This is a STEM book on a mission! An inspiring, inclusive, whimsical way to learn about computers and technology from real-life trailblazers, written by a Googler.

  • Family Forever:” This Sesame Street picture book features Julia and her family and friends as they spend a day in the park.

We look forward to doing more work in making reading more accessible and fun for our youngest users, families and aspiring readers.  To learn more about reading tools, please visit the help center.

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Our all-new TalkBack screen reader

To blind traveling bluesman Joshua Pearson, songwriting is more than just a good melody. “Songwriting gave me a language to talk about my frustrations. And by putting my music out there, I could hopefully let somebody else feel some of what I was feeling.” For Joshua, TalkBack is his main pen and paper for writing songs; it lets him dictate lyrics into his phone and hear them told back to him.

Screen readers, such as Android’s TalkBack, are the primary interface through which Joshua and many other people who are blind or low vision read, write, send emails, share social media, order delivery and even write music. TalkBack speaks the screen aloud, navigates through apps, and facilitates communication with braille, voice and keyboard input. And today we’re releasing an all-new version of TalkBack that includes some of the most highly requested features from the blind and low vision community.

Tap as you please with multi-finger gestures

We’ve added a dozen easy-to-learn and easy-to-use multi-finger gestures that are available with the latest version of TalkBack on Pixel and ​Samsung Galaxy devices from One UI 3 onwards. These gestures make it easier for you to interact with apps and let you perform common actions, such as selecting and editing text, controlling media and finding help. 

We worked closely with people in the blind and low vision community to develop these easy-to-remember gestures and make sure they felt natural. For example, instead of navigating through multiple menus and announcements to start or stop your favorite podcast, it’s now as simple as double tapping the screen with two fingers. 

Read or skim with just a swipe

Reading and listening is easier with new controls that help you find the most relevant information. For instance, you can swipe right or left with three fingers to hear only the headlines, listen word-by-word or even character-by-character. And then with a single swipe up or down you can navigate through the text. 

Say what? There’s new Voice Commands 

Starting with TalkBack 9.1, you can now swipe up and right to use TalkBack’s new voice commands. TalkBack will stop talking and await your instructions. With over 25 different commands, you can say “find” to locate text on the screen or “increase speech rate” to make TalkBack speak more quickly. 

Do things your way with more customization and language options

While we put a lot of thought into this redesign, one thing we’ve learned from working with the community is that everyone interacts with their phones in their own way — which makes customization important. You can now add or remove options in the TalkBack menu or reading controls. Additionally, gestures can be assigned or reassigned to scores of settings, actions and navigation controls.

Lastly, we’re adding support for two new languages in TalkBack’s braille keyboard: Arabic and Spanish.

Joining forces for accessibility

The all-new TalkBack is the result of our collaboration with trusted testers and Samsung, who co-developed this release. ​TalkBack is now the default screen reader on all ​Samsung Galaxy devices from One UI 3 onwards, making it easier to enjoy a consistent and productive screen reader experience across even more devices.

To help everyone keep up with all the changes, we’ve created an entirely new tutorial to make it easier to make the most of TalkBack — there’s even a test pad to practice new gestures. With these new features and collaborations we hope that more people can find useful and creative ways to use TalkBack. Who knows, you might even find lyrical inspiration like Joshua. 

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Quicksave: The latest from Google Play Pass

Google Play Pass helps you connect with awesome digital content: It’s your pass to hundreds of apps and games without ads and in-app purchases. It’s been a pretty busy year for Play Pass, so let’s take a moment to spotlight a few of the games and developers we think you’ll enjoy.

Program updates

This past year, Play Pass…

  • Celebrated its first birthday

  • Expanded to 42 countries

  • Added more than 300 new apps and games, including more than 100 teacher-approved kids’ titles

New games coming and recent additions

An image from the game Giant Dancing Plushies

Giant Dancing Plushies (Rogue Games, Inc.):

Help huge, adorable stuffed animals conquer the planet in this adorable (yet… terrifying) take on the rhythm game genre. Jam to the great in-game tracks or Kaiju it up to your own favorite music and get ready to stomp on the city! 

An image from the game Figment

Figment (Bedtime Digital Games):

Venture into the whimsical, dream-like world of the human mind. Solve puzzles to restore the peace and rediscover the courage that’s been lost–all while beating back the nightmarish fears that threaten to take over! If you’re looking for a mind-blowing weekend playlist, we recommend checking out Figment, Samorost 3Old Man’s Journey and The Gardens Between (all included with your Play Pass subscription). Can you identify the theme that links them?

The logo for the game The Legend of Bum-Bo

The Legend of Bum-Bo (The Label Limited):

Help Bum-Bo recover his lost coin in this edgy, puzzle-based, rogue-like prequel to the Binding of Isaac.  We won’t give away too much, but this combo of turn-based combat and poop (yes, poop) makes for one unforgettable gaming experience.

Titles we can’t get enough of

The logo from the game The Escapists

Everything by Team17: Bust out of a life behind bars, save some sheep and battle your way to worm domination. Almost every live Android title from this renowned publisher will be joining Play Pass. From the Escapists series, Flockers, to every Worms game, Team17 sure knows how to bring it and we’re all here for it.

The Escapists: Prison Escape

The Escapists 2: Pocket Breakout

and many more

An image from the game Basketball Club Story

Basketball Club Story (Kairosoft): Create your own basketball team, recruit a cast of zany players and compete against other teams in the league! You’re the coach taking the team to victory in this sim game from Japanese developer Kairosoft.  Keep an eye out for more from them soon.

An image from the video game Grand Mountain Adventure

Grand Mountain Adventure: Snowboard Premiere (Toppluva AB):The new Winter 2021 Expansion adds a bunch of new mountains and challenging excitement to this local multiplayer. If you can’t hit the slopes this winter, everything you need (including an avalanche of recently added content) is included in this game for you. Well… everything except the après-ski festivities.

The logo of the video game Hole Down

Holedown (grapefrukt games):Shoot balls, break blocks, upgrade all the things. How deep can you go? We love this game so much and are excited to have just welcomed another grapefrukt game (rymdkapsel) to Play Pass.

The logo of the video game Evoland

Evoland(Playdigious):Embark on an epic action/adventure journey with plenty of humor and nods to the classics. Upgrade your graphics and gameplay as you advance on your quest. As we know, every great title has a sequel, so make sure to be on the lookout for more Evoland coming to Play Pass.

Full list of additions since December 1, 2020:

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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.”>
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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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