- Google is releasing a new app called Action Blocks that lets you create shortcuts to specific tasks that appear as tiles on the home screen.
- The app was designed to make it easier for those with cognitive disabilities to perform tasks like listening to music or making a phone call, but anyone can use it.
- It’s the latest example of how large tech companies like Google are making accessibility a bigger focus when developing products.
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Google is releasing a new app that will make it easier to perform tasks on your phone that usually take multiple taps or swipes — like making a video call — with just a single press.
The new app, called Action Blocks, was designed to make it easier for those with cognitive disabilities to perform functions like listening to music or making a phone call. The free app is available immediately for Android devices through Google’s Play Store. The app was in testing last year, but Google is only now releasing it publicly.
As its name implies, the app allows you to create a shortcut in the form of a “block” for a designated action that lives on your phone’s home screen. Pressing an action block could replace the process of opening an app, finding the contact you want to speak with, and tapping the call button, for example. Or opening a music app and finding the playlist you want to hear.
These buttons can also be customized with photos so that it’s easy to tell exactly what they do at just a glance. An action block for video calling your spouse with just a tap, for example, might have a photo with their face on it. The app includes a list of actions to choose from, such as making a call, getting directions to a certain place, and turning the smart home-enabled lights on and off, among other tasks.
When creating a new action block, you can also give the button a nickname that’s different from the specific command. For example, an action block that turns off the lights in your child’s bedroom may appear as a button called “Bedtime” on the home screen.
Although the app was designed to serve those with cognitive disabilities, anyone with an Android phone running Android 5.0 and higher can use it.
The launch of Action Blocks comes as Google and other major tech companies have been focusing more on designing products with accessibility in mind in recent years.
At Google’s annual I/O conference in 2019, for example, it unveiled Live Caption, which provides captioning for videos and podcasts. It also announced Project Euphonia, an initiative that it’s partnered with the ALS Therapy Development Institute and ALS Residence Initiative to help Google’s voice-activated technology better understand people living with the disease.
Google is also announcing a slew of other accessibility-related updates on Thursday, such as new settings for Google Maps that make it easier to see wheelchair accessible places and new features for its speech-to-text service Live Transcribe.
Apple has also added a new accessibility-oriented feature to the iPhone with iOS 13 that lets you control your iPhone entirely with your voice, while Microsoft has a variety of accessibility tools baked into Windows that make the software easier to use for people with vision and hearing impairments.
Still, despite recent advances, there’s still more to be done. Companies could be doing more to help developers create accessible apps and programs, for example, as Jennison Asuncion, head of accessibility engineering at LinkedIn, told CNET last year.