Android 11 was an update that was greater than the sum of its parts. Smaller features like chat bubbles, conversation notifications, and a built-in screen recorder don’t sound all that impressive on their own. Combined into one seamless package, however, Android 11 was a pretty great update for Google’s mobile OS.
While it introduced a lot of under-the-hood changes, Android 11 didn’t have many user-facing features. That’s changing with Android 12; the first beta is now available, and it includes exciting new features in the form of overhauled customization options, useful privacy and security fixes, and fun animations throughout the animation.
Google calls Android 12 “the biggest design change in Android’s history,” and that’s immediately evident once you take a look at the new interface. If you need a quick look at what the interface looks and feels like right now, you should head to our Android 12 hands-on post. In this article we’ll talk about all the design changes, availability, and the all the new features making their way to Android 12.
Android 12 Public beta is now live
Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central
Google released the first developer preview of Android 12 on February 18, 2021. The second Android 12 Developer Preview was released on March 17. As the name suggests, this version of Android 12 is intended specifically for developer use so apps can start being prepared for the new OS, and we’ve made an Android 12 Developer Preview hands-on for you to check out.
At I/O 2021 on May 18, Google kicked off the public Android 12 beta program. The beta is now available to all Pixels starting with the Pixel 3 series, and it is also making its way to over a dozen third-party devices from 11 manufacturers. You can install the Android 12 beta on these Pixel devices right now:
- Pixel 3 / 3 XL
- Pixel 3a / 3a XL
- Pixel 4 / 4 XL
- Pixel 4a / 4a 5G
- Pixel 5
Eager to give Android 12 a go on your Pixel? We’ve rounded up the best ways to install Android 12 on your device.
Android 12 Release date
While the timing of Android version releases has changed over the years, the past few have been pretty consistent. Here are the dates for the last four releases:
- Android 8.0 — August 21, 2017
- Android 9 — August 6, 2018
- Android 10 — September 3, 2019
- Android 11 — September 8, 2020
It looks like Google is committed to hitting a similar release window for Android 12. The company notes it will reach Platform Stability for Android 12 by August 2021, though as we saw last year, there could be delays.
There will be a total of four beta builds, and with the first one now live, Google will release new builds at a steady cadence over the coming weeks as it gets ready for the stable rollout.
Android 12 Interface
Google is calling the new visual paradigm Material You, which is an evolution of Material Design. The key highlight here is customization; Google is making it easier than ever to personalize your phone to your tastes. The “transformative” feature gives you a custom color palette, and you can easily change the interface colors.
There’s also a color extraction feature that lets you pick the colors straight from your phone’s background. These colors are then applied throughout the UI, including the notification shade, lock screen, widgets, volume controls, and more. This is the theming engine we’ve been waiting for, and it is exciting to see Google finally offer robust customization controls.
Google finally gave us the theming engine we’ve been asking for all these years.
Another major change is animations; Google has scattered fun animations throughout the interface as a way to make daily interactions that much more playful. Google says that it has overhauled interactions to make them more fluid and energy-efficient — noting that core system services use up to 22% less resources.
Another aesthetic change is around dark mode; Google seems intent on making it lighter with every preview. What was a true dark mode now has a distinctly grey tone, and it doesn’t look all that great on AMOLED panels. While other manufacturers offering the ability to customize the intensity of dark mode — ColorOS 11 does this really well — Google is unlikely to do the same.
We already got a good look at the one-handed mode that debuted in preview 2. The one-handed mode pulls the screen down for easier access. It is a nifty addition, and if you’re interested in seeing how it works in action, head to our Android 12 Developer Preview 2 hands-on.
Widgets are also getting a considerable makeover in Android 12. Widgets were a big focus for Apple last year with iOS 14, and for Android 12, Google could be taking a few notes from Apple’s approach to give Android widgets a much-needed refresh.
The new design features are debuting on Pixels later this year, and at this moment we don’t know when they will be available on other devices.
Android 12 Privacy
Google always uses Android updates to introduce new privacy-focused features, and for Android 12, that’s no different. Android 12 ushers in a few different privacy tweaks, and there are a new features on offer. First up is an indicator that shows you when an app is using your location or camera; ensuring no service will be able to use these in the background.
But the big change is that you can now disable camera or microphone directly from the notification pane; and this setting works system-wide. So even if you’ve given a service access to the camera, this particular toggle overrides access. This is a huge deal for privacy on Android.
Google also says users will now have “more transparency and control over how cookies can be used across sites.” Google’s also improving the safety for how apps export certain activities, ensuring things that should remain in a specific app aren’t being shared elsewhere.
Android 12 Notifications
Notifications got a lot of attention with Android 11, and in Android 12, that focus continues. There are a few notable updates for notifications, the first of which has to do with UI updates. The notification pane has been redesigned to include large text labels, and there’s now a Google Pay toggle that lets you access saved cards with ease.
Furthermore, Google goes on to say that it’s “decorating notifications with custom content with icon and expand affordances to match all other notifications.” Google introduced a new security measure for lock screen notifications, and developers can now configure notifications on the lock screen to always require user authentication.
Android 12 is also improving the performance of notifications. For apps targeting Android 12, Google’s making behind-the-scenes changes that’ll allow you to access an app even faster when tapping on its respective notification.
Android 12 Miscellaneous
Source: Android Central
Android 12 has a lot of smaller updates that are just as important to keep on your radar. An exciting new addition is a car key feature that will work with select Google Pixels and new cars from the likes of BMW and Volvo.
Another of these features has to do with files and media transcoding. HEVC is becoming increasingly popular in the mobile space, and in light of this, Android 12 introduces new media transcoding tools to help apps deal with HEVC content if they don’t natively support it. Now, if an app can’t handle HEVC files, those will automatically be transcoded to AVC.
Source: Jake Archibald / AVIF Has Landed
While on the subject of files, Android 12 also introduces support for AVIF. Compared to a competing format like JPEG, AVIF offers much higher-quality images at small file sizes (as shown in the above image).
Something I’m personally excited about is the new “haptic-coupled audio effect” feature. That may sound like tech jargon, but what it essentially means is that apps can use the vibration motor in your phone to play custom vibrations — for example, a racing game could offer different vibrations for when you’re driving on dirt, asphalt, etc.
We should also mention that Android 12 continues Google’s commitment to Project Mainline. With Android 12, Google is now adding the Android Runtime (also known as ART) module to the Project Mainline process. Per Google, this change:
Lets us push updates to the core runtime and libraries on devices running Android 12. We can improve runtime performance and correctness, manage memory more efficiently, and make Kotlin operations faster – all without requiring a full system update.
Android 12 Get it right now
Eager to try out all the new features in Android 12? You can install the Android 12 beta for your device right now. The beta initiative is also making its way to third-party phones, so if you don’t have a Pixel, be sure to take a look at the Android 12 beta on Xiaomi, OnePlus, OPPO, Vivo, and other devices.