The sum of Android 11’s parts was greater than the sum of its parts. Chat bubbles, talk alerts, and a built-in screen recorder don’t sound especially impressive on their own. However, when merged into one cohesive bundle, Android 11 was a wonderful upgrade for Google’s mobile OS. Looking ahead to Android 12, we’re anticipating another fantastic year.
Android 12 is now available as a developer preview, giving us an early peek at Google’s plans for the next version of its mobile operating system. And, as you would imagine, there’s a lot to discuss.
Here’s what you need to know about Android 12: the new features, design updates, availability, and more!
Android 12 Developer preview
On February 18, 2021, Google posted the first developer preview of Android 12. On March 17, the second Android 12 Developer Preview was released.
As the name implies, this version of Android 12 is designed for developers so that applications can begin to be prepared for the new operating system. There are still a few bugs and features missing, but if you want to take a closer look at what’s available, we’ve already created an Android 12 Developer Preview hands-on for you to try out.
You can install Android 12 on select Pixels right now if you’re a developer or just want to throw caution to the wind and play with it anyway. All of the handsets mentioned below are compatible with Developer Preview 1:
- Pixel 3 / 3 XL
- Pixel 3a / 3a XL
- Pixel 4 / 4 XL
- Pixel 4a / 4a 5G
- Pixel 5
To get started, go to the Android Developers website and download the Android 12 device picture to your phone manually. Although we don’t suggest installing this on your primary phone, we do have instructions on how to install the Android 12 beta on your phone right now if you’re desperate to check it out.
Android 12 Release date
Although the release dates of Android versions have varied over time, the last few have been reasonably consistent. The following are the release dates for the last four albums:
- Android 8.0 — August 21, 2017
- Android 9 — August 6, 2018
- Android 10 — September 3, 2019
- Android 11 — September 8, 2020
As planned, Google appears to be committed to releasing Android 12 within a similar timeframe. The company aims to achieve Platform Stability for Android 12 by August 2021, but delays are possible, as we saw last year.
Two more developer previews will be released in March and April, followed by four beta versions, leading up to the final version.
Android 12 Interface
A one-handed mode, which debuted in preview 2, is a significant improvement on the GUI. The panel is pulled down for easy access in one-handed mode. It’s a useful addition, and if you want to see how it functions in reality, check out our hands-on with Android 12 Developer Preview 2.
Another visual shift is the dark mode, which Google seems to be made lighter with each preview. What used to be a true dark mode has turned grey, and it doesn’t look fantastic on AMOLED displays. While other manufacturers, such as ColorOS 11, offer the ability to adjust the strength of dark mode, Google is unlikely to follow suit.
We haven’t seen a significant redesign for Android since the switch from Holo to Material Design in 2014, but based on developer previews and recent reports, Android 12 could be the next big change for the Android OS.
If you enable a feature flag in Android 12 DP1, you’ll see a new GUI called “Silky Home” in the Settings app. Silky Home adds big header fonts and moves all your buttons/toggles further down the phone, similar to Samsung’s One UI, making it easier to use on large devices.
It’s a big change from what we’ve come to expect from Google’s current software design, and though it’s only limited to the Settings app, it’s likely to extend to other areas of the OS in future software updates.
On February 8, 2021, the good people over at XDA Developers released a series of Android 12 mockups. Although nothing here is official or confirmed, what you’re seeing below are renderings of future Android 12 builds, and while nothing here is official or confirmed, it’s a potentially exciting look at what’s to come.
Right away, it appears that widgets in Android 12 are having a significant makeover. Apple put a lot of emphasis on widgets with iOS 14 last year, and Google may be taking some cues from Apple’s approach to offering Android widgets a much-needed refresh with Android 12.
You’ll also note system-wide theming in the mockups, with colors that fit the tan/sandy wallpaper in everything from app icons to widgets and other UI components. According to rumors, Android 12 will have the most powerful theming engine the platform has ever seen, and these mockups may be demonstrating just that. Picture-in-picture mode was tweaked in Developer Preview 2, offering developers more options to resize their material.
According to another XDA article, these various improvements are all part of Google’s next major design evolution for Android, dubbed “Material NEXT.” Other changes with Material NEXT are said to include rearranging the lock screen and AOD icons, a new UI for the lock pattern feature, and new clock/customization options on the lock screen, in addition to the changes seen in the renders above.
While Material NEXT is unlikely to be the official name for this new design language, it is clear that Android as we know it will look and feel very different in the months ahead. When you combine these renders with the updates to Silky Home that we’ve already seen, it’s clear that Google has big plans for Android.
Android 12 Privacy
Google has a long history of using Android updates to add new privacy-focused features, and Android 12 is no exception. The first developer preview of Android 12 introduces a few new privacy features, none of which are game-changing, but they’re still worth discussing.
Changes to cookie actions while visiting websites are first on the list. Users will now have “more transparency and control over how cookies are used across pages,” according to Google. Google is also enhancing the security of how apps export such operations, ensuring that information that should stay private isn’t shared with others.
Status indicators for when apps are using specific sections of your phone aren’t available yet, but it’s a function we’re eagerly anticipating. Leaked mockups of Android 12 have shown something similar to how iOS 14 displays an indication when an app is using your microphone or camera (see the green icons in the image above).
We don’t know whether or when this will be included in Android 12, but we’re crossing our fingers it will.
Android 12 Notifications
With Android 11, notifications received a lot of attention, and Android 12 maintains that emphasis. There are a few notable alert updates, the first of which involves UI changes.
Google says it’s “refreshing notification styles to make them more modern, easy to use, and usable” in its press release for Android 12’s first developer preview. The notification drawer and controls have been modified, at least in the initial developer preview. Certain animations and transitions have also been tweaked to render the notification experience as smooth and seamless as possible.
In addition, Google says it’s “decorating alerts with custom content and extending affordances to fit all other notifications.” Developers can now configure alerts on the lock screen to always enable user authentication, thanks to a new security measure introduced by Google.
Notification accuracy has also been improved in Android 12. Google is making behind-the-scenes improvements to Android 12 apps that will allow you to access an app even faster when clicking on its notification.
Android 12 Miscellaneous
Developer Preview 1 focuses on privacy and alerts, but that’s not to suggest they’re the only items that have been modified. In reality, there is a slew of smaller updates that should be on your radar as well.
One of these issues involves files and media transcoding. In light of the growing popularity of HEVC in the mobile space, Android 12 introduces new media transcoding tools to help apps deal with HEVC content if they don’t support it natively. If an app can’t manage HEVC files, they’ll be transcoded to AVC automatically. Developers are still encouraged to use native HEVC support, but for the time being, this should help with the change.
While we’re on the topic of data, Android 12 adds AVIF support. AVIF provides far higher-quality images at smaller file sizes than a competing format like JPEG (as shown in the above image).
The latest “haptic-coupled audio effect” feature is something I’m particularly excited about. That may sound like technical jargon, but it simply means that apps can use your phone’s vibration motor to play custom vibrations — for example, a racing game may give different vibrations depending on whether you’re driving on gravel, asphalt, or other surfaces.
It’s also worth remembering that Android 12 retains Google’s Project Mainline dedication. Google has added the Android Runtime (also known as ART) module to the Project Mainline phase with Android 12. According to Google, the following has changed:
Allows us to transfer updates to the core runtime and libraries to Android 12 users. Without needing a complete system upgrade, we can boost runtime efficiency and correctness, handle the memory more effectively, and speed up Kotlin operations.
Android 12 Rumored features
Google has verified some of the main Android 12 features, but what about the ones we’ve seen in leaks and rumors? Here’s a short rundown of the most important new features we haven’t seen yet.
According to 9to5Google’s investigation, Google is working on a Pixel-specific Android 12 feature that will allow you to perform certain actions by double-tapping the back of your phone. The double-tap could be used to snooze alarms, take a screenshot, and other things in addition to opening Google Assistant.
The codename for this feature was “Columbus,” and it was discovered in Android 11 betas. It clearly never made it to the public build, but with Android 12 on the horizon, it will finally get its chance to shine.
Another Pixel-specific function might be an auto-rotate update, which will use your face’s orientation to help your Pixel decide whether to shift the display to horizontal or vertical. We’ve all had auto-rotate inadvertently flip our screen due to the gyroscope being confused for one reason or another, so having a function like this to remove false positives might be incredibly useful.