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. But it didn't have many user-facing features, which is where Android 12 comes in.
With the launch of beta 3, Android 12 has moved closer to its final form. Each beta built upon the last, adding and improving new features like custom UI colors, a Privacy Dashboard, scrollable screenshots, faster animations, smarter notifications, and tons of other new tricks that long-time Android users will immediately notice.
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. The new Material You interface makes your phone feel personalized without needing to download an action launcher; and beneath the surface, the interface has just as many quality-of-life improvements and optimizations as the last OS.
In this article, we'll talk about all the design changes and new features making their way to Android 12, along with when the final version will launch and on which phones. Beta 3 is the most polished build yet, but there are still some confirmed Android 12 changes that we won't get to see until it officially launches.
Android 12 Public beta 3 is now live
Google released the first Android 12 developer preview on February 18, 2021, followed by the second Android 12 Developer Preview on March 17. As their names suggest, these builds were intended specifically for developers to start tweaking apps for the new OS. Most of the updates were very subtle.
The real changes emerged at Google I/O 2021. On May 18, Google revealed the new OS and kicked off the public Android 12 beta program. Our first Android 12 beta hands-on outlined the brand new features that went live with Material You's public debut. Android 12 beta 2 launched on June 9, while the latest Android 12 beta 3 arrived on July 14. The beta is available on all Pixels starting with the Pixel 3 series, as well as over a dozen third-party handsets from 11 manufacturers. You can install the Android 12 beta on these devices right now:
- Pixel 3 / 3 XL
- Pixel 3a / 3a XL
- Pixel 4 / 4 XL
- Pixel 4a / 4a 5G
- Pixel 5
- Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
- Xiaomi Mi 11
- Xiaomi Mi 11i (Mi 11X/Redmi K40 Pro)
- Xiaomi Mi 11 Pro (China-only)
- OnePlus 9 Pro
- OnePlus 9
- OPPO Find X3 Pro
- Vivo iQOO 7 Legend
- Realme GT
- Nokia X20
- ASUS ZenFone 8
- Tecno Camon 17
- TCL 20 Pro 5G
- ZTE Axon 30 5G Ultra
Android 12 Release date and availability
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, and is on track to do so. Then the final version would arrive on Pixel phones in September 2021 — though we don't have a specific date yet.
Of course, most Android users own other phones besides a Pixel. So unless you're planning to buy the Pixel 6, you'll need to know when your phone will get Android 12. We only have estimates thus far, but based on previous years, we can predict that most Samsung, OnePlus, and other phones won't receive it until 2022, with some flagships hopefully getting the update in late 2021. That link will also break down which phones are guaranteed to receive the update.
Android 12 Interface
Google calls 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 automatically picks the colors straight from your phone's wallpaper. 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. We go over this new theming engine in our Android 12 beta 2 hands-on.
While the color extraction tool is great, the beta 3 added the option to pick a theme color manually, without it depending on your current wallpaper. You can even activate themed icons that make your apps match your chosen color. The main downside is that Google only offers four colors each for light and dark mode, as we discussed in our beta 3 hands-on.
However, we've also noticed that Android 12 beta 3 killed font and icon shape options in favor of Material You, seemingly for good. That means we're exchanging one form of customization for another, instead of Google allowing us to pick and choose.
Google finally gave us the theming engine we've been asking for all these years.
Another major Android 12 update 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% fewer resources.
One specific animation update that you'll love: auto-rotate between portrait and landscape has been sped up by 25 percent (according to Google) in beta 3. Google achieved this by using the selfie cam to detect the angle of your face in relation to the phone, so it will recognize more quickly if the orientation has changed.
Yet 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.
Google has been listening to feedback during the beta period and has already adjusted several visual changes to fall better in line with community expectations. Beta 2 debuted a taller, thinner volume slider when compared to beta 1, while beta 3 removed the "sparkle" animation that appears when clicking some UI elements. It's entirely possible that Google will offer more dark mode options going forward, if they follow suit with the rest of these alterations.
Pixel phones will also get a proper one-handed mode with Android 12. Added in preview 2, this mode lets you swipe down from the center of the screen to condense the app into the bottom half of the screen, then swipe up or exit the app to turn it back to normal.
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. Google debuted some new widgets with Android 12 Beta 1, like the conversations widget, but they're not fully-baked just yet.
The new design features are debuting on Pixels later this year, and at this moment we don't know when — or if — 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 significant overhaul to privacy at the OS level. The new Privacy Dashboard introduces a whole new way to view and control how apps use permissions to access your personal data. First up is an indicator that shows you when an app is using your location, microphone, or camera, ensuring no service will be able to use these in the background.
But the big change is that you can now disable the camera or microphone directly from the notification pane; and this setting works system-wide. So even if you've given an app access to the camera, this particular toggle overrides access. This is a huge deal for privacy on Android and, when combined with the new notifications that let you know when an app is accessing said resources, make it easier to control your privacy on-the-fly.
Google says users will now have "more transparency and control over how cookies can be used across sites." Google is 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, as well as a new Device Controls toggle that replaces the smart home controls section found in Android 11's power menu.
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 Gaming
For starters, games on Android 12 will adapt to different Game Mode APIs; if you select a "battery-saving" or "performance" mode, your game will adjust its settings accordingly. Google has also created a Play Integrity API to help stymy cheating tools, plus better compression tools to reduce download sizes.
The more flashy update is "play as you download": when downloading Android games with large file sizes, Android 12 will let you start to play it while only part of the app is download, just as you can on game consoles. We tested this in beta 3, starting a bike ride in Touchgrind BMX at just 15% downloaded. It's pretty impressive, and great for people with slow wi-fi networks.
There will also be a new Game dashboard in the final version of Android 12, with quicker access to tools like screen recording and screenshots. But we weren't able to test it in beta 3.
Android 12 Miscellaneous
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. That hasn't shown up in a beta, so expect it to arrive in September.
Another significant change arriving in September: new Android 12 emoji designs! 992 emojis will get a new look, many of which were redesigned to be more inclusive of other countries. They'll even change slightly based on whether or not your phone is in light or dark mode.
Many Android phones have the option to take scrolling screenshots, but stock Android never had that option...until now. It's now easy to take scrollable screenshots in Android 12 with the newest beta.
The new OS will also improve 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.
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 image below).
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.
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