Google Maps Dark Mode and More Useful Android Features Are Rolling Out Today

Illustration for article titled Google Maps Dark Mode and More Useful Android Features Are Rolling Out Today

Image: Google

While we wait for Android 12 to officially go live later this year, Google has a bunch of tweaks and updates coming to Android this spring.

Following the 2019 update to Chrome, Google is now bringing Password Checkup to Android to help alert you about potential leaks or data breaches that may have exposed your existing passwords to hackers. Password Checkup will be rolling out to devices with Android 9 and above, and will automatically check passwords already saved in Android along with any new ones. If Google detects that your password has been exposed, you’ll get an alert strongly suggesting you change it.

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Password Checkup is important, but let’s get down to the good stuff: Google Maps is finally getting the long-awaited official dark mode. And in Google Messages on Android 7 and above, Google is adding the ability to send scheduled messages, similar to Gmail’s scheduled email feature. All you have to do is write a message as normal, and then hold the send button, which makes a new menu appear allowing you to set an exact time for when your text will go out.

Even the Google Assistant is getting a small upgrade, with the ability to make calls, set timers and alarms, and play music on your phone using voice commands. This means your Android phone can now kind of double as a smart speaker, and helps expand the role of the Google Assistant as something that simply answers questions with these additional automation features.

Finally, an official dark mode for Google Maps.

Finally, an official dark mode for Google Maps.
Image: Google

Android Auto is also getting a refresh. Google added new car-inspired backgrounds and voice-activated games like Jeopardy to help those long road trips go by a little faster. And to help make things like contacts easier to access, Google is also adding shortcuts to Android Auto, and cars with widescreen displays get a new split-screen mode so you can see Google Maps and your media controls at the same time.

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Finally, for folks who are blind or have low vision, Google is also releasing a new version of its Talkback app featuring a redesigned menu, more intuitive gesture recognition, improved reading controls, and more.

Here’s what the new scheduled sending options will look like in Google Messages.

Here’s what the new scheduled sending options will look like in Google Messages.
Image: Google

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Google’s new Android software updates will start rolling out today, with Talkback version 9.1 available now in the Google Play store and the update to Android Auto expected to be available “in the coming days.”

Google Maps Adds Tools to Pay for Parking and Transit in App

Illustration for article titled Google Maps Adds Tools to Pay for Parking and Transit in App

Image: Google

As part of Google’s continued efforts to expand the features of its popular mapping app, today Google announced the ability to pay for both parking and transit fares directly in Google Maps.

With the pandemic making people even warier of touching public surfaces, the ability to pay for parking in Google Maps is not only a bit of added convenience but also a helpful safety precaution. To start, Google will be partnering with two parking solution providers (Passport and Park Mobile) in more than 400 cities across the U.S. including Boston, Cincinnati, L.A., NYC, and Washington D.C.

Here’s a demo of what Google Map’s new parking payment feature will look like.
Gif: Google

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The way it works is that once you find a parking spot, all you have to do is enter the meter number, set the amount of time you need, and then hit the Pay button. And as an added bonus, if you need to add more time to the meter before you get back, you can extend your time inside Google Maps too.

As for public transit, people will now be able to pay for public transit fares inside Google Maps for more than 80 different transit agencies across the world. By making it possible to plan and pay for a trip in Google Maps, Google is hoping to reduce the hassle of switching between multiple apps and eliminate the confusion of having to find a physical ticket machine. And in certain places like San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll even be able to buy a digital Clipper card, so you can get past the turnstiles just by scanning your phone.

Gif: Google

The one important thing to know is that it seems payments for transit fares will come from a credit card or debit card linked to your Google Pay account, so if you don’t use Google Pay, you’ll likely need to set it up before being able to use Google Map’s new transit payment features.

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Google says support for parking payments in Google Maps will begin rolling out on Android today with support for iOS “coming soon.” Meanwhile paying for transit fares in Google Maps will become available on Android sometime “in the coming weeks.”

You Can Now Stalk Yourself With Google Maps’ 2020 Timeline Update

This illustration picture shows Google map application displaying medical facility or a COVID-19 testing center on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia on June 9, 2020.

This illustration picture shows Google map application displaying medical facility or a COVID-19 testing center on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia on June 9, 2020.
Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP (Getty Images)

It’s no secret that Google, as well as other big tech companies, know a lot about you. Probably a lot more than you think they do. And while in general that’s really creepy, sometimes it can briefly produce cool results, before going back to being creepy. Case in point: You can start off the year by stalking yourself with Google Maps.

As spotted by 9to5Google, Google Maps is currently rolling out its “2020 Timeline update,” an email which gives you a breakdown of the places you’ve been based on your location history. While this recap is also available monthly, the outlet notes, the 2020 update will show what your travel habits have looked like for all of last year.

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Yes, 2020 was the year of the coronavirus pandemic, which seriously affected travel and movement in general, and Google acknowledges as much.

“COVID-19 changed the world’s travels in 2020, and how many places people were able to visit,” the email reads, per 9to5Google. “If you were able to travel this year, you can see some of the places you’ve been with the help of this automated Timeline email.”

Even though our travel lifestyles have been hampered by the pandemic, it can still be interesting to see where we did manage to go. According to 9to5Google, the update includes a map with the cities and places you’ve traveled to as well as a new section called “trends.” This section tells you what types of places you went to, such as places where you go to shop or eat. Google Maps’ Timeline also lets you know how many miles you walked and drove.

In order to use the feature, you apparently have to have Location History turned on in your Google account settings. (I don’t, which is why I foolishly looked for this recap for quite a while and did not get any results). Nonetheless, if you have other settings like Web & App Activity turned on, Google may still save your location data when you use its sites, apps, and services, even if you’ve paused Location History or deleted your location data, per the company’s support pages for the feature.

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On its support page for the feature, Google says you can edit your Timeline or delete your location history, as well as its time ranges, at any time.

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Thankfully, Google says your Timeline isn’t available for everyone to see. It’s private, and only you can see it on mobile and desktop.

All in all, kind of cool, but also kind of creepy. It’s up to you to decide how a feature like this makes you feel. Maybe you really like seeing your data broken out that way. But if you don’t, you can always turn it off.

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[9to5Google]

How to Stay Productive When Google’s Services Go Offline

Illustration for article titled How to Stay Productive When Googles Services Go Offline

Illustration: Pavlo S (Shutterstock)

As much as you might hope your internet connection, games, and services will be there for you when you need them, guess what? Shit breaks. Facebook goes down. Gmail stops delivering. Slack pushes everyone offline and into (blissful) workplace silence. And every time this happens, I think to myself: “Why didn’t I have a backup plan before this happened.”

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That’s especially true when it comes to Google’s services—probably the most essential, widely used productivity tools on my meager list. You can’t predict the next time Gmail is going to disappear for an hour or two, but you can take steps to ensure you can still access your email—or the contents of many other Google services—before they randomly disappear. And this is something you should look into right now, since my suggestions won’t do you much good if a service is already offline.

How to set up Gmail’s Offline mode

The best and easiest way to access your email when Gmail goes offline is to connect your Gmail account to a third-party app, such as Thunderbird (or one of the many alternatives). As long as you’re using IMAP, which most people should be, any changes you make offline should be reflected in the live version of Gmail once it (or you) pop back online and your desktop client syncs up.

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You can also enable “offline mode” directly within Gmail itself, which should let you access your messages via your browser when Gmail goes offline. You’ll find the option for Offline mail under Gmail’s settings, and you can configure it a few ways:

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Screenshot: David Murphy

I find this implementation can be a little fussy. Generally speaking, if your browser loses an internet connection while you have Gmail open, you should be fine. But I’ve encountered issues previously when opening a new browser window to access Gmail, so I tend to stick with the third-party-app technique if I know I’m going to need to access my Gmail when I’m away from an internet connection.

How to access Google Drive files offline

Second verse, same as the first: Google Drive has a desktop appBackup and Sync—but don’t assume that’s going to give you offline access to all your files. It functions like a typical cloud-storage synchronization app for anything that isn’t a Google Drive file, e.g. Google Docs or Google Sheets creations. Double-clicking on those from your desktop will give you nothing if you don’t have a connection to the internet (or if Google Drive is down).

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Instead, you’ll need to go to your Google Drive settings and enable offline mode. However, there’s one catch; you need to use the Chrome browser to see the option. You won’t be able to turn on offline mode if you’re using any other browser, even Edge Chromium.

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Screenshot: David Murphy

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Once you’ve enabled this setting, you should be able to pull up Google Drive even when the service is offline—whether that’s your fault or Google’s.

How to see where you’re going when Google Maps is offline

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Screenshot: David Murphy

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Odds are good that you’ll always be able to access Google Maps—unless the service goes down on Google’s side, that is, but I can’t recall the last time that ever happened. Still, a little prevention never hurt anyone.

In case you ever lose a signal, or Maps messes up, you can still access navigation offline. Pull up Google Maps in iOS or Android, search for a location, and swipe up until you see the triple-dot icon in the upper-right corner. Tap it, tap on Download offline map, and pinch to zoom in and out of whatever location you selected. Once you’ve picked the area for your map, make sure you’re connected to wifi and tap Download to start the process.

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Now, if you’re ever without a signal (or Google Maps is down), you should still be able to figure out where you are and how to get wherever you were going. You might have some issues starting new turn-by-turn navigation, but you’ll at least be able to keep yourself from getting lost.

How to view your Google Calendar events offline

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Screenshot: David Murphy

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This one’s easy. Google Calendar used to have an offline mode, but it went away around a year or so ago. I’m going to assume that in the modern era, almost everyone uses some kind of app to manage their calendar, whether that’s the calendar app that comes built into your desktop OS or any number of calendar apps you can use on your mobile device. Simply link your Google account to one of these, and you’ll be able to see your appointments if Google Calendar—or you—should happen to go offline.

How to save YouTube videos for offline viewing

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Screenshot: David Murphy

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Open your YouTube app on your Android or iOS device and pull up the video you want to make sure you can access later (up to 48 hours later, that is). If the video’s creator allows it, you’ll see a download link. You’ll have to be a YouTube Premium subscriber to download the video to view offline—sigh—but it’s the best you’ll be able to do short of using a third-party tool to, say, download any YouTube video you want onto your desktop or laptop.

Google Is Supercharging Emoji Remixing with Emoji Kitchen in Gboard

Gif: Google

Google is pushing out a handful of last-minute Android updates before the end of the year, including a huge update to its delightful Emoji Kitchen feature in Gboard.

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Earlier this year, Google released Emoji Kitchen as part of Gboard, allowing people to essentially remix or create new emoji “recipes” by combining a range of existing emoticons. So if you wanted to create a ghost with a cowboy hat, you could simply combine the standard cowboy hat emoji with the ghost emoji, and voila: Now you have a spooky undead cowboy emoji.

Illustration for article titled Google Is Supercharging Emoji Remixing with Emoji Kitchen in Gboard

Image: Google

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With Emoji Kitchen’s newest update,which will begin rolling out this week, Google is expanding the range of unique combinations from hundreds to more than 14,000, giving you the freedom to potentially create the perfect emoji for every situation.

Google’s other Android updates include upgrades to Google Maps, Android Auto, Nearby Share, Google Play Books, and Accessibility. In Google Maps, there will be a new Go Tab that will provide directions to your most frequently visited places; all you have to do is tap on a location from within the tab.

Here’s a demo of the new Go Tab inside Google Maps.
Gif: Google

For any places you have pinned, the Go Tab will also provide info about those locations including a shortcut to directions, traffic info, and estimated arrival time. Google Maps will even let you pin various routes for different modes of transportation, so regardless if you’re driving or taking public transit, you can have your route and navigation planned out ahead of time. While there isn’t a specific timetable for when the Go Tab will be available in Google Maps on your device, Google says it will become available on both Android and iOS devices in the coming weeks.

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Meanwhile, for those who rely more on Android Auto, Google is expanding support to 36 additional countries, including Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Indonesia, and Namibia.

Illustration for article titled Google Is Supercharging Emoji Remixing with Emoji Kitchen in Gboard

Image: Google

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For Nearby Share, which Google launched earlier this year as a replacement for Android Beam and as an alternative to Apple’s AirDrop sharing system, you’ll now be able to share full apps from the Google Play store with others, even if you’re not connected to mobile data or wifi. All you have to do is go into the My apps & Games tabs in the Google Play app and then look for the Share Apps option. Like the Go Tab in Google Maps, sharing apps with Nearby Share is expected to roll out over the coming weeks.

As for books, by partnering with a number of publishers in the U.S. and U.K., Google Play is getting the ability to create auto-generated narrators, turning standard ebooks into audiobooks automatically. However, it’s currently unclear which ebooks will get this functionality, and right now, the tool to create auto-narrated audiobooks is still in beta before the feature rolls out to all publishers sometime in early 2021.

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Gif: Google

Finally, to help improve accessibility of Android phones, Google is expanding support of its Voice Access app to older version of Android. Previously available only on Android 11 devices, Voice Access allows people with paralysis, injuries or limited motor function to use and control their Android devices using their voice. Voice Access allows users to voice commands to interact with their phone. It’s also capable of reading UI buttons and more to help facilitate navigating, and with this latest update, Voice Access will now be available (initially as an open beta app) on any Android device running Android 6 (Marshmallow) and above.

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Your Phone’s Navigation App is Probably Smarter Than You Think

Illustration for article titled Your Phones Navigation App is Probably Smarter Than You Think

Image: Apple

You probably use your smartphone to get from point A to point B, but have you fully explored all the features and options available along the way? Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Waze all have navigation modes that are smarter and more versatile than you might have realized. From changing direction mid-route to avoiding parking problems, here’s how you can make the most of them.

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Google Maps

When you’ve asked Google Maps to figure out some directions for you, don’t neglect the Steps and more (Android) or Steps (iOS) button at the bottom. Tap it to see how busy the route will be over the next few hours, how easy it’s going to be to park, and each turn that you’ll have to make along the way (on Android these turns are accompanied by Street View photos of each junction, though this isn’t available on iOS yet).

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From the main directions screen, tap the three dots on the top right, and then Route options if you want to avoid highways, toll roads, or both. After you’ve made your selection, the route gets calculated again. The same menu lets you add multiple stops to a journey, which is useful not just for making a trip with multiple stops, but also for taking a particular route to your destination (if you want to take a more scenic journey, maybe).

Illustration for article titled Your Phones Navigation App is Probably Smarter Than You Think

Screenshot: Google Maps

In Google Maps on Android, you can tap the three dots and then pick Set depart or arrive time to see how the journey looks at some point in the future. The main reason you might want to do this is to check how the traffic conditions might have changed from what they are now (the congestion or lack of it will be estimated based on historical data).

Google Maps for iOS has a different feature that you can access from the bottom of the Steps screen we mentioned before—select the Remind you to leave on time and the app will do exactly that, based on a departure or arrival time that you specify. It’s an odd discrepancy between the versions of the app for Android and iOS, but there are plenty of similar platform variations spread across Google’s mobile apps.

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If you need to stop for gas or just a snack, you might have to take a detour in the middle of your journey. To do this, tap the search icon on the navigation screen (the magnifying glass) and then enter your search—you can look for gas stations and grocery stores, or whatever you need. Google Maps will show you a range of options close to your current route and then give you the instructions to make the detour once you’ve chosen one.

Illustration for article titled Your Phones Navigation App is Probably Smarter Than You Think

Screenshot: Google Maps

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It’s also worth diving into the settings for Google Maps, accessible via the main app menu. Tap Navigation settings (Android) or Navigation (iOS) and you’re able to force day or night mode no matter what the time of day, keep the map fixed with north ahead, show or hide speed limits on roads, and adjust the volume of the spoken guidance that accompanies you on your travels.

If you’re walking around rather than driving, you can use the augmented reality Live View feature to make sure you always have your bearings and to overlay AR pointers on top of the real world: After you’ve requested directions, tap the Live View button to get started. While you’re walking, you can tilt the phone up in front of you at any time to get a fix on where you should be heading next.

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Apple Maps

You can configure various navigation settings for Apple Maps on the iPhone by opening up the main iOS Settings app and choosing Maps from the list. Setting your preferred type of travel, for example, will control which type of navigation Apple Maps defaults to whenever you load up some new directions.

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Pick Driving to tell Apple Maps to avoid toll roads and highways when it creates a route, or Cycling if you want to avoid hills or busy roads. If you’re traveling by car, you can also set whether or not the compass and speed limit labels are shown on screen while you’re getting from A to B.

Illustration for article titled Your Phones Navigation App is Probably Smarter Than You Think

Screenshot: Apple Maps

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Under Navigation & Guidance are options for the navigation voice volume, which you don’t necessarily want set at the same volume as your music or podcasts. If you’re listening to spoken audio while driving, you can make it automatically pause itself whenever Apple Maps’ built-in turn-by-turn prompts want to say something.

In the Apple Maps app itself, after you’ve looked up some directions, you can scroll down past the suggested routes to look for alternatives that don’t include toll roads or highways. If you want to change the defaults for these rules, head to the Driving section in the Maps section of iOS Settings again.

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To search for places while you’re already en route to your destination, swipe up on the pane at the bottom of the screen listing your travel time—you’ll see relevant options like gas stations and coffee stops, which can be added to your journey without changing the ultimate destination. There’s also a Details option you can use to see all of the individual turns you need to take on the journey.

Illustration for article titled Your Phones Navigation App is Probably Smarter Than You Think

Screenshot: Apple Maps

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Included in this same panel is a useful Share ETA option, which does exactly what you might expect: You can let someone know how long you’re going to be through a link sent via text or email. The people you’re sharing with are then able to see your route, your destination, and your current location inside Apple Maps for the rest of your journey.

Finally, don’t neglect the Do Not Disturb options that are built into iOS, which just might just prevent you from getting into an accident. Head to Do Not Disturb from the main iOS Settings app, and you’ll see there’s an option to automatically enable the mode when your phone detects that it’s in motion. You can also set up an auto-reply message for your contacts (or just some of your contacts) to let them know that you’re driving.

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Waze

Waze is just about the best alternative to the big two mapping apps—though it’s owned by Google—and where it really shines is in its community-driven features. Use the orange bubble icon (bottom right) if you need to send a report about traffic congestion, an accident, a police stop, or any other kind of hazard.

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Tap the Car info button (Android) or tap the blob that represents your vehicle (iOS) to set what type of vehicle you’re going to be traveling in. You can specify that you’re driving a motorcycle or an electric car from here, for example, and Waze will make the necessary adjustments, adapting the route to suit. You can specify your preferred fuel type from the same screen.

Illustration for article titled Your Phones Navigation App is Probably Smarter Than You Think

Screenshot: Waze

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On Android, tap More routing options to take control of how Waze maps out your journey from start to end. You can tell the app to avoid highways and toll roads, and also ban dirt roads and “difficult junctions” if you want a driving experience that’s as stress-free as possible. These options will be applied the next time you take a trip. On iOS, you need to start a navigation search, then tap the cog icon (top left), then choose Navigation to get to the same set of options.

When you’re on your way somewhere, pull up the panel at the bottom of the screen with a tap, then scroll down to Add a stop to put in an extra detour—there are quick links for gas stations and car parks, or you can search the map for something specific. The stop will be added to your journey without changing the ultimate destination.

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One of the most useful features in Waze is the way you can work out the best time for a trip, based on estimated traffic levels, and then save it for later. Use the Find the best time to leave panel that appears when you’re searching for directions to figure out when the traffic will be the lightest—you can then tap Save and Waze will remind you when it’s time to set off on your journey.

Illustration for article titled Your Phones Navigation App is Probably Smarter Than You Think

Screenshot: Waze

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Waze has a share ETA feature built right in—if you tap the info panel at the bottom of the screen in navigation mode, and then choose Share drive, you can send a link to someone else through the app of your choice. If the recipient doesn’t have the app installed, then they’ll see the route and your time of arrival on the web.

Finally, the Waze interface can get a bit on the busy side when you’re navigating from one place to another. It’s great that it has so much information available, from traffic jams to weather hazards, but you might not need it all of the time. From the main search page, tap the cog icon in the top right corner then Map display and Reports to choose what is and isn’t shown on screen.

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Don’t Know Where to Vote? Google Will Now Show You in Search and Maps

Illustration for article titled Dont Know Where to Vote? Google Will Now Show You in Search and Maps

Screenshot: Google

If you need to figure out where the heck to vote or drop off your ballot, Google will now point you in the right direction in Maps and Search.

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Beginning today, Google will display information on your nearest voting locations when you search for queries related to ballot drop boxes, early voting, and in-person voting locations. Where information isn’t immediately available, which was the case when I tried the feature, Google instead pointed me to the official website for my local elections office. Google said it will continue updating information as it’s made available and plans to provide data on more than 200,000 voting locations across the U.S.

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Google has previously made information on voting and registration available when users searched for related queries, and today’s features expand on those efforts through partnerships with state election authorities, the nonpartisan nonprofit Democracy Works, and the Voting Information Project.

The feature will also extend to Google Assistant-enabled phones, smart speakers, and smart displays by asking, “Hey Google, where do I vote?” As with searching on Chrome or in Maps, the query will prompt the Assistant to pull up locations and provide directions to your nearest voting location. Google said this feature will arrive on Assistant-enabled devices “soon.”

Go vote!