(Pocket-lint) - Android 12 is here! Every year, Google releases a major software update to its Android mobile operating system.
Last year, it rolled out Android 11. In 2021, it's announced Android 12, and it's available now in form of a developer preview. That means it's not quite ready for public consumption yet, but we're only a few months away.
Be sure to check back, too, as Pocket-lint plans to update this guide with all the latest news, leaks, and reports.
When will Android 12 be available?
- Developer preview release date: 18 February 2021
- Public beta release date: Around May 2021
- Official rollout for consumers: Around September 2021
Google usually follows a pattern: In the first few months of the year, it launches a developer preview. This year is no different. Android 12's developer preview is now live. It released on 18 February 2021.
Going forward, Google usually holds an I/O developer conference in May to announce the first public beta for consumers to test new features. The final, finished version of Android 12 likely won't get an official rollout to compatible handsets until September 2021.
Which phones get Android 12 first?
- Pixel devices get Android 12 first
- Next Pixel flagship will probably launch with it
- Partner devices might also be included in initial rollout
You need one of these devices to install the Android 12 developer beta:
- Pixel 3 and 3 XL
- Pixel 3a and 3a XL
- Pixel 4 and 4 XL
- Pixel 4a and 4a (5G)
- Pixel 5
When the final, finished version of Android 12 releases this autumn, it'll likely come first to select devices, including Google's own Pixel lineup. For instance, at launch, Android 11 only supported Pixel 2 and newer Pixel phones as well as a handful of devices from OnePlus, Xiaomi, OPPO, and Realme.
How to get the Android 12 developer beta
The developer preview is an early version of Android 12 specifically for developers to test. Pocket-lint has a guide here detailing how to get it.
Why is it called Android 12?
- Google confirmed the name in 2020
Google announced last September via an Android Developers blog post that the 2021 Android release will be called Android 12.
The aim here is to make things more formal, so Google is using a basic numbered approach rather than pushing the sweet treat names it used previously. However, we believe that Android 12 is also being called Snow Cone - the S moniker appears briefly in the status bar when it first boots up.
Is there anything new in Android 12?
Most of the changes already live in the first developer preview are relatively minor tweaks to existing UI and features. They're all shown off in the video above, but we've listed them below for you as well:
This one might be quite hard to see, but there's a subtle light blue tint to a lot of the interface. It's like a pale mint blue we can see in the drop down quick settings toggles (instead of grey) and in parts of the Settings menu when you're using the regular light theme.
Settings menu tweak
As well as featuring that subtle blue tint the main Settings menu has had a tiny bit of a tweak. The search bar at the top is no longer a long rectangular field that spans the entire screen. It's a shorter bubble, and the profile image that you tap to get to your own account settings has been shifted outside and made larger.
Open up the network and Wifi settings or Developer Options menu and you'll also find a new toggle switch. It's smaller and shows a little tick when active, and a dash when switched off.
Apart from that, it's largely the same as Android 11. But that could change as new updates arrive.
Take a screenshot and head to the edit/markup function and you can now type text on to your screenshots in a number of different font colours. Plus you can stick some emojis on there if you want by pressing the little sticker icon. You can resize them easily too by just pinching to zoom.
As a side note to that, you can now easily dismiss screenshot thumbnails by swiping them off the screen. Simple.
Share sheet image edit
Similar to marking up screenshots above, when you go to share an image file there's a new 'Edit' option that lets you mark up pictures before sending them on. Just bring up the default share menu and tap 'more' where it loads your other apps and gives you the edit option next to Nearby Share below the image thumbnail.
Google's slowly been improving its theming and customisation options, and with the first developer preview of Android 12 you can now customise your Home Screen grid more. Essentially, Google added one more grid option. So now you can have4x5 as well as 4x4, 3x3, 2x2 and the default option.
Media Player interface
One of the more prominent UI changes is the updated media control widget that appears in the drop-down menu you when you have music playing. Google has enlarged it, making it span almost the entire width of the screen and adjusted the layout so the controls are closer to the middle of the screen. It also takes up more space on the Lock Screen when active.
Now, if you're playing the music on your phone locally, you can tap the tiny little icon in the corner of the widget and this brings up a new playback location popup window. Here you can adjust the music volume or quickly pair a new device like a pair of earbuds of a Bluetooth speaker.
As well as changing the look of the media player control, notifications have changed slightly too. While visually they've tweaked the background, adjusting the transparency, the designers adjusted the layout of the text and visuals too. Also, there's an easy new snooze control that you simply tap to snooze, rather than having to swipe on the notification. Then you can snooze specific notifications for a set amount of time.
App shortcuts menu
Another quite small tweak to the interface comes in form of the new pop-up shortcut menu that appears when you tap and hold an app icon. The menu is larger, taking up more space on the screen, likely to make it easier for people to use.
Nearby Share for Wifi passwords
This is a potentially handy feature that lets you quickly share your WiFi network details with people in the same room as you. So while you could share your Wi-Fi using a QR code scanner before, if you look beneath that in Android 12 you now get the option that says 'Nearby'. Tap on it, turn on Nearby sharing and then it'll look for devices near you to share the details with.
Hidden features and rumours?
As well as confirmed and available features, there have been a lot of leaks and rumours about what it could include by the time it's an official public release later in the year. Some have been unearthed by a number of skilled folks who know how to dive deep into the software and include the following:
A new design
Android 12 could introduce a new design for widgets and notifications. This might result in much rounder bubbles for a more modern look. It's also said that privacy will be tightened, potentially using icons to indicate when apps are using the camera or microphone to alert the user.
BIG change: If you enable the "Silky home" feature flag that I previously mentioned, you'll get a DRAMATICALLY changed Settings UI that's MUCH more one-handed friendly. Here are a few screenshots: pic.twitter.com/EcwqnU0LlB— Mishaal Rahman (@MishaalRahman) February 18, 2021
We could also see a refreshed UI for the Settings menu that looks a lot more like the spacing and design used by OnePlus and Samsung in their latest Android skins. By enabling something called 'Silky Home', Mishaal Rahman has been able to show off this new interface.
One-handed mode and rolling screenshot
Rumours suggest that Android 12 might introduce some familiar features, with one-handed mode and rolling screenshot both on the list - and both common features from Samsung phones. There's also the suggestion that Pixel owners might get a face-based screen rotation function to keep the screen pointing the right direction even when you're lying down.
Audio-coupled haptic feedback
Oppo enabled a feature like this in ColorOS 11, but essentially this vibrates/shakes its haptic motor to precisely match rhythms in music. Currently only the Pixel 4 seems to have the necessary hardware to support it, but it could mean this is a feature that lands in time for the new Pixels later in the year.
Easier, safe access to 'other app stores'
Google said in a blog post last autumn that Android 12 will “make it even easier for people to use other app stores on their devices while being careful not to compromise the safety measures Android has in place". It didn't elaborate on what this means, specifically, or how it will work. But we're assuming you'll be able to quickly access apps in third-party stores with your device, and there will be safety protections in place.
Restricted Networking mode
XDA Developer's Mishaal Rahman dug into Android Open Source Project (AOSP) Gerrit entries and spotted mentions of a new Restricted Networking mode. Specifically, once enabled, the feature would allow apps with a "connectivity use restricted networks" permission to access the network. Other apps on your phone without that permission wouldn't be able to send or receive data.
Mishaal indicates this permission can only be granted to privileged system apps signed by the OEM. This, therefore, doesn't appear to be a system-level configurable firewall, but it still has interesting use-case potential. Imagine if Google offers a user-facing settings option to restrict internet access on a per-app basis. However, it's not clear yet how Google might implement its Restricted Networking mode into Android 12.
App Pairs split-screen experience
Android 11 offers a split-screen experience, where you can open two apps on your device at the same time. For Android 12, 9to5Google said Google is working on an improved version called App Pairs. Currently, split screen effectively “pins” one app, but Android 12’s App Pairs system will group two apps together as one “task" so you can choose two of your recently opened apps to become a pair. This feature was also shown off by XDA Developers after the preview landed.
Once paired, you should be able to toggle between using a different single app and the pair you created. 9to5Google shared a mockup of how the feature looks. (You can see it above. The left is Android 11 now. The right, however, shows how the recents view treats a pair as one joint activity.) Android 12's App Pairs offers a divider, too, to let you adjust how much of the screen is used up by an app.
OS updates directly from Play Store
Android 12 might also make it easier for Google to directly deliver operating system updates. XDA Developers noticed the company plans to add Android Runtime (ART) as a Mainline module in Android 12, allowing it to push more operating system updates through Google Play Store, rather than sending them over the air. This could result in more frequent updates and fewer hangups from phone manufacturers.
'Hibernate' unused apps to free up space
XDA Developers discovered Android 12 could have a feature that "hibernates" open apps not currently in use, making them less power-intensive and freeing up space. Based on code changes submitted to AOSP, Google, specifically, is adding a new system, “that manages app hibernation state, a state apps can enter that means they are not being actively used and can be optimized for storage".
Double-tap gesture for Pixel phones
Google could be working to bring a double-tap gesture to Pixel phones with Android 12.
By default, by giving a quick double-tap to the back of your phone, this gesture can invoke Google Assistant, but it can be configured for other actions, too, like to take a screenshot, pause/resume media playback, open the notification shade, and open the recent apps view.
The double-tap gesture was first spotted last year as a potential Android 11 feature. It was rumoured to replace the “Active Edge” squeeze gesture, but it never materialised. Now, Google is reportedly working to revive the feature, codenamed Columbus, for Pixel phones.
Android 12: What's happened so far?
Here's everything we've heard about Android 12 so far.
18 February 2021: Google releases Android 12 developer beta
Google has made the developer beta of Android 12 available to download and install on Pixel devices.
16 February 2021: Android 12 Snow Cone might add software features OEMs have offered for years
Rumours suggest that Android 12 might introduce a one-handed model, rolling screenshot and might give Pixel owners a face-based screen rotation feature.
9 February 2021: Possible Android 12 interface leaks early, shows new widget design
Images said to come from the slide showing Android 12's visuals have leaked, giving us a look at what we might expect from the software.
25 January 2021: Android 12 could add double-tap gesture for Pixels
9to5Google claimed Google is working to bring a double-tap gesture to Pixel phones with Android 12. Codenamed Columbus, this gesture can invoke Google Assistant, and it can be configured for other actions. You just have to do a quick double-tap to the back of your phone to use it.
21 January 2021: Android 12 set to improve split screen with ‘App Pairs’
9to5Google claimed Google is working on a revamped version of split screen called “App Pairs.”
19 January 2021: Android 12 might let you hibernate unused apps
XDA Developers claimed Google is working on an app hibernation feature to free up space for Android 12.
19 January 2021: Google might introduce a Restricted Networking mode with Android 12
A handful of commits merged to AOSP describe a new restricted networking mode feature possibly for Android 12.
25 November 2020: Google to make the Android Runtime (ART) a Mainline module
XDA Developers claimed Google plans to include the Android Runtime (ART) as an updatable Mainline module in Android 12.
30 September 2020: Google is already talking about Android 12 changes
We didn't expect Google's first mention of Android 12 - the next iteration of Android expected in 2021 - to be about app stores and fees.