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(Pocket-lint) - Google has opened the public beta test of Android 11, the next major version of its mobile operating system officially rolling out later this year.

The beta test arrives about a month later than planned, as Google has to cancel its Google I/O developer conference in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It planned to stream an "Android 11 beta launch show" event on 3 June, but the killing of George Floyd and subsequent worldwide Black Lives Matter protests resulted in the cancellation of that event, as well.

Now, Google is simply announcing the beta, with little-to-no fanfare. However, it is highlighting key Android 11 features in its announcement. For instance, Google has added a dedicated section to your notification tray for messaging apps, so all your incoming messages will rest in one place for you to see, reply, or mark as high priority to ignore Do Not Disturb.

Another major feature in Android 11 is Bubbles, which Google originally wanted to include in Android 10. It works similar to Facebook Messenger's Chat heads feature in that it is a specific shortcut to a conversation that remains persistent on the screen as you do other things. You can move the bubble around, tap on it to open the conversation, stack them, etc.

Google is also making it easier to access smart home controls: Just long-press the power button to access a new screen that shows your Google Pay cards and passes and any connected device linked to your Google account. For a full list of new Android 11 features, check out our guide.

To join the Android 11 public beta, you need to enroll in the Android Beta Program (follow the steps below). This will allow you to update your device and receive over-the-air updates for free. The first release of the public beta is available now for Pixel devices - specifically, Pixel 2 and newer. Google indicated other devices will be added to the beta in the coming weeks.

You should only install the Android 11 public beta on a secondary device, because it may be loaded with bugs.

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When the Android 11 public beta is available, here's how you'll get started:

  1. Visit google.com/android/beta to sign-up for the Android Beta Program.
  2. Sign in to your Google account when prompted.
  3. Your eligible devices will be listed on the next page, click to enroll in the Beta Program.
  4. Go to Settings > System > Advanced > System Update to check for available downloads. It should show up within a few minutes.

If you've used the Android Beta Program before the Android 11 public beta, you will need to re-enroll your phone. Once you're enrolled, you'll continue to be updated to every new version of the Android 11 beta automatically, over-the-air.

Writing by Maggie Tillman. Originally published on 10 June 2020.