Android is the world’s most popular smartphone operating system, running on billions of smartphones around the world. As a result, even the tiniest of changes in the OS has the potential to affect millions of users. But because of the way that Android updates are delivered, it’s debatable whether these changes actually make a difference. Despite that, we’re always looking forward to the next big Android update in hopes that it brings significant change. Speaking of which, the first developer preview for the next major update, Android 12, is right around the corner, and it can bring about many improvements. In case you missed our previous coverage, here’s everything we know about Android 12 so far.
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When is Android 12 releasing?
Google has not confirmed the official release date at the time of writing. However, we can make some educated guesses based on how things have panned out in the past. We’ll update the post with the official timeline when Google releases the same.
Android 12 Developer Preview
Android 12 will first make an appearance as Developer Preview releases. We expect to get a couple of these, with the first one hopefully landing on Wednesday, 17th February 2021. The Developer Preview for Android 11 began in February 2020, a few weeks ahead of the usual release in March, which gave developers more time to adapt their apps to the new platform behaviors and APIs introduced in the update. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t completely blown over in several parts of the world, we expect Google to follow a longer timeline this year as well.
As their name implies, the Android 12 Developer Previews will allow developers to begin platform migration and start the adaption process for their apps. Google is expected to detail most of the major platform changes in the previews to inform the entire Android ecosystem of what’s coming.
Developer Previews are largely unstable, and they are not intended for average users. Google also reserves the right to add or remove features at this stage, so do not be surprised if you see a feature in the first Developer Preview missing in the following releases. Developer Previews are also restricted to supported Google Pixel devices, though you can try them out on other phones by sideloading a GSI.
Android 12 Beta
After a couple of Developer Preview releases, we will make our way to Android 12 Beta releases, with the first one expected either in May or June this year. These releases will be a bit more polished, and they will give us a fair idea of what the final OS release will look like. There may also be minor releases in between Betas, mainly to fix any critical bugs.
Around this time we will also start seeing releases for devices outside of the supported Google Pixel lineup. OEMs will start migrating their UX skins to the Beta version of Android 12 and they will begin recruitments for their own “Preview” programs. However, these releases may lag a version behind the ones available on the Google Pixel. Again, bugs are to be expected in these preview programs, and as such, they are recommended only for developers and advanced users.
Android 12 Beta with Platform Stability
After a beta release or two, the releases will achieve Platform Stability status co-existing alongside the Beta status. This is expected to happen around July-August this year. Platform Stability means that the Android 12 SDK, NDK APIs, app-facing surfaces, platform behaviors, and even restrictions on non-SDK interfaces have been finalized. There will be no further changes in terms of how Android 12 behaves or how APIs function in the betas that follow. At this point, developers can start updating their apps to target Android 12 (API Level 31) without being concerned about any unexpected changes breaking their app behavior.
Android 12 Stable
After one or two beta releases with the platform stability tag, we can expect Google to roll out the first Android 12 stable release. This is expected to happen in late-August or September. As is the case, Google’s Pixel devices are expected to be the first to get Android 12 stable releases.
For non-Pixel phones, we expect to see wider public betas at this stage. The exact timeline for the same will depend upon your phone and its OEM’s plans. A good rule of thumb is that flagships will be prioritized for the update, so if you have a phone that is lower down the price range, you can expect to receive the update a few weeks or months down the line.
Will my device get Android 12?
The answer to the question “will my device get Android 12” largely depends on which device you have.
Google will officially provide the update to these devices:
These supported Google Pixel devices will get the Android 12 update on day one across the release cycle, barring any unexpected showstopper bugs.
The answer is fairly complicated for unsupported Google Pixel devices and non-Pixel devices. Unsupported Pixels will not get these updates from Google, but they should be in a position to install the GSI right at launch. A non-Pixel device is entirely at the discretion (read: mercy) of the OEM and how it exists within their product lineup. It’s logical to presume that lighter UX skins like ASUS’ Zen UI will be first in line to upgrade their flagships to an Android 12 base. In comparison, heavier UX skins like Samsung’s One UI and Xiaomi’s MIUI tend to take longer to rebase their skins. However, this isn’t always the case, as lighter UX skins have been equally slow at adoption, if not slower. Thus, predicting the Android 12 update timeline for non-Pixels is very difficult at this stage.
What’s new with Android 12?
All Android version bumps bring along major changes. However, changes over the past few years have been less radical than the sweeping changes in the early life of Android, which is a sign of the platform maturing over the years. Still, we can expect a fair few goodies in this new update. As the first update is not live yet, all the information below is based on leaks and other details we’ve gathered along the way.
We got our best look at the new features and changes that Android 12 could bring from our recent leak. Note that this is a leak, so the UX on the first developer preview may or may not resemble these screenshots. We’ll find out soon enough. For now, this is what we’ve seen:
With Android 12, we might be treated to a UI refresh extending from the homescreen all through the UX. There appears to be an overall shift from the overtly-white UX as it exists now to a more beige-tone. But this beige tone can be linked to one of several possibilities: it could be from an accent picked up from the wallpaper, it could be a value set by Google, it could be related to the extensive theming system, or it could also be something else entirely.
We also see a new notifications panel UI, with the transparency on the panel being swapped out for a light beige background. Notifications now have more pronounced rounded corners. The number of Quick Settings tiles in the partially expanded state is down from 6 to 4, which gives way to larger icons. The date and clock have also swapped positions.
When Apple recently added widgets to iOS, we argued that they’re better than Android’s implementation in some ways. While we don’t know if Google is planning a major overhaul of widgets, it does look like they at least plan to make a few changes. In some of the screenshots below, we can see an alleged new “Conversations” widget in Android 12 that may highlight recent messages, missed calls, or activity statuses. The widget that’s shown is small and only seems to be big enough to accommodate one message/call/status at a time in its smallest size.
“Conversation Widgets” might even turn out to be a mandatory feature for all Android 12 devices — we’ll know soon enough. These widgets will provide access to “People Shortcuts” which contain an avatar, name, notification content, and status information, all set in the PeopleManager class.
Privacy Indicators and Privacy Setting Changes
The screenshots below show what looks like privacy indicators. Users could receive a warning in status bar indicators whenever an app is using the camera or microphone. Tapping on these status bar icons may show a pop-up at the top of the screen that tells you exactly which apps are using the camera or microphone. Google has been testing these privacy chips for over 2 years now, so it would be nice to see them finally make an appearance in Android 12. These camera and microphone indicators might even be mandatory to include in Android 12 builds, with leaked documents indicating that these indicators must be shown prominently at the top of the screen, always be visible whenever the camera or microphone is accessed, and must have the same color across the ecosystem.
The “Privacy” settings within Android could also see a revamp with Android 12. The new Privacy settings may contain toggles to disable the camera and mute the microphone entirely, in addition to toggling location access. You can already disable all sensors on your device using the “sensors off” Quick Setting tile, but this tile can only be shown once you enable Developer Options. Android 12 may make the sensor toggles more user-accessible by placing them in the Privacy settings.
One of the most hotly anticipated new features is scrolling screenshots. This feature will allow you to take a screenshot of a lengthy page without having to manually stitch together multiple screenshots. This feature was originally planned for inclusion in Android 11 but didn’t make the cut. We expect it to finally appear in Android 12, however.
While this feature has not been revealed in a leak, Google did express an intention to build a “less stringent” version of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature. Google is looking to balance privacy with an ad-supported ecosystem. Hence, Google’s version of the feature will likely be less strict and may not require developers to get permission from users to track their data.
The approach that Google could take for Android may be similar to the one planned for the Chrome web browser. Google previously announced plans to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome within two years. Instead, the browser will use an alternative that allows some ad targeting with less specific data collection. Advertisers will be able to target groups of people with similar interests, but not individuals.
Expanded Theming System
We briefly mentioned the expanded theming system as part of the UI refresh, but there’s a bit more to discuss.
The expanded theming system in Android 12 may allow users to change the system’s primary color and accent colors and also apply those colors to supported third-party applications. The OS may even offer theme suggestions based on the wallpaper, which could explain the beige tones on the leaked screenshots.
The third-party app “Pluvius” could theme your phone based on your current wallpaper.
Android 12’s deeper theming options will likely vary from brand to brand as OEMs provide users with their own custom colors. However, you won’t be able to craft your own unique color scheme. The colors you choose may be reflected inside Android apps, but only if developers choose to support them. This expanded theming feature may even get scrapped if Google deems the changes not to be in-line with their vision for the OS, so don’t get too fixated with the idea just yet.
Restricted Networking Mode
Google was spotted working on a new restricted networking mode feature for Android 12, though it may not be the system-level firewall that you’re probably wishing it to be.
When this new restricted networking mode is turned on, only apps that hold the CONNECTIVITY_USE_RESTRICTED_NETWORKS permission will be allowed to use the network. Since this permission can only be granted to privileged system applications and/or applications signed by the OEM, network access will be blocked for all applications installed by the user. Effectively, this means that you’ll still receive push notifications from apps using Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), as these notifications are routed through the privileged Google Play Services app that holds the requisite permission. Still, no other app — excluding a handful of other system apps — can send or receive data in the background.
There’s no indication that Google will be opening up the feature to let users make their own allowlist or blocklist of apps.
Hibernating Unused Apps
One of the commits spotted in the run-up to the Android 12 Developer Preview indicates that Google could be adding a new app hibernation feature. The app hibernation system service “manages app hibernation state, a state apps can enter that means they are not being actively used and can be optimized for storage.” We do not know the parameters used to classify the hibernation/use-unuse state of the app. We know from commits that the app hibernation feature will automatically clear an app’s cache files and delete its compilation artifact files. The amount of space that will be freed up by deleting these files likely won’t be a lot, especially compared to the file sizes of cached images or videos. However, on lower-end devices with small amounts of internal storage, saving dozens of megabytes will free up space for dozens of additional photos.
Better Split Screen Multitasking with App Pairs
Split-screen as a feature has been present on Android for quite a few years now, but it is a little cumbersome to execute. Samsung took the functionality further with its “App Pair” feature on the Edge panel on One UI. You can essentially select two apps that you would like to open simultaneously and then click on the resultant icon to do so very quickly. LG and Microsoft also had similar ideas for their dual-screen devices, though Samsung’s approach worked on conventional smartphones. Google is now rumored to bring this App Pairs functionality across Android.
Using the app “Split Screen Launcher” on Google Play, we can replicate what Android 12’s App Pairs feature will look like,
The split-screen multitasking system in Android 11 works by pinning one app into a smaller window and then launching another app, making it a multi-step process. With Android 12 and App Pairs, you may be able to group two recently launched apps and launch them both in split-screen view with one click. You will also be able to swap between a recently used single app and then back to the app pair. The divider between the two apps may also be double-tapped to quickly switch positions of the split-screen apps.
Android 12 will fix one of the more minor annoyances in Android. Whenever Unicode gets new emojis, we need to wait for an OS update to reach our phones before we can actually make them a part of our Internet lingo. Google is making it easier to receive new emojis by decoupling them from Android system updates. This means that new emojis can be added to phones by simply pushing an updated font file instead of requiring a full system update just for this change.
The commits for this change have been merged way ahead of the stable release, so this feature is likely to come with Android 12.
Samsung was the first Android OEM to incorporate Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology to aid in precise indoor positioning of smart home devices and high-speed peer-to-peer data transmission. Xiaomi also planned to get onboard with UWB, and we can surely expect many other Android OEMs to also jump on board. To deal with this new technology, Google added an API to AOSP to support UWB.
The Galaxy S21+ and Galaxy S21 Ultra support ultra-wideband for finding and unlocking select cars.
The API has been added in time for inclusion into Android 12, but it remains to be seen if it actually does get incorporated. Keep in mind that the UWB APIs are marked as SystemAPIs right now, so they will not be accessible to third-party apps, though we aren’t sure why this restriction is in place.
Wi-Fi Password Sharing with Nearby Share
Sharing your Wi-Fi password can be a cumbersome affair if you need to do it with many people. Disclosing your password is not an option in this instance, and typing it in is also cumbersome. On phones running Android 10 and above, you can easily share your saved Wi-Fi passwords through QR codes, which can be a feasible solution but also impractical in situations when there are just too many users to onboard.
Google is improving this by letting you share the generated QR code with other users using Android’s Nearby Share feature. Since Nearby Share does not require physical contact or scanning of any codes, this would make it easier to share the password across a room, if needed. The commit for the feature has been merged, so we can expect to see it make its way to Android 12.
Game Controller Rumble Support
Android right now provides only minimal support for vibrating connected input devices, restricting them to on and off, and with no way to control the amplitude of vibrations or generate custom vibration effects. But this could change with Android 12, as improvements to input device rumble support are on the cards. Code submitted to AOSP adds in support for amplitude control and paves the way for generating custom vibration effects.
However, keep in mind that these commits have not been merged. So they might not make it in time for the final Android 12 release.
“Install Hints” to speed up the installation of important apps on new Android phones
Migrating to a new Android phone is a pain that has only been marginally relieved in all these years. Google was spotted working on “install hints” as a feature to let app stores decide which compiler filter to use when bulk installing new apps, making it quicker to set up a new phone. This feature is primarily intended for the app store, namely Google Play Store in this context, which will get the ability to prioritize the most-used apps from the older device and install them quicker on the new phone.
Ease-of-Use for Third-Party App Stores
Android as an OS allows users to install apps from sources other than the Google Play Store. But when Epic Games filed its lawsuit against Google (and Apple), the company complained that users have to grant permissions that used dissuasive language in installing apps outside of the Play Store. Further, such sideloading mechanisms lack the ability to silently install and update apps, placing third-party app stores at an inherent disadvantage against the Google Play Store.
An example of the prompts you have to go through to sideload an app on Android.
Back then, Google retorted against Epic. In the response announcement, Google mentioned that it would be making changes in Android 12 that will make it even easier for people to use other apps stores on their devices while being careful not to compromise the safety measures that Android has in place. The company did not share what these changes are, but we need to keep an eye on the measures introduced for ease-of-use for third-party app stores on Android 12.
Android Runtime (ART) as a Mainline Module
Android Runtime (ART) is the default runtime on Android that translates an Android app’s bytecode into native instructions. Google did indicate interest in transitioning ART into a Mainline module, which would allow the company to exercise much more control over it, in line with the overarching theme of Project Mainline. Google will then be able to update it without needing to push a system OTA update, and OEMs will be locked out from making modifications to ART, giving app developers a lot more behavioral consistency across the ecosystem.
WireGuard VPN support in the Linux kernel
WireGuard is a next-gen VPN protocol that features modern cryptography standards and has a secure, auditable code base. After its inclusion in Linux Kernel 5.6, Google has added support for the protocol to Android 12’s Linux Kernel 4.19 and Linux Kernel 5.4 tree. This means that kernel acceleration for WireGuard will be supported in Android 12 on devices with Linux Kernel 4.19 and 5.4. However, it remains to be seen whether Google will add APIs to interface with the kernel module.
What are your thoughts on Android 12? What features are you most excited about, and what would you like to see other than the features mentioned above? Let us know in the comments below!