If Google was looking for a catchy description of its plan for Android 12, how about this?
This time it’s personal.
Yes, the new version of the OS is imminent. And the key changes certainly relate to customization –and also privacy. In short, Google is doing all it can to give users the tools to set up their phones how they want – and more ability to control developer access to their data.
When it was unveiled at Google I/O 2021 earlier this year, the company called Android 12 “the biggest design change in Android’s history”. In fact, the revamp is a showcase for its new ‘user first’ design language, Material You.
Google said: “We rethought the entire experience, from the colors to the shapes, light, and motion…this work is being done in deep collaboration between our software, hardware, and Material Design teams. We’re unifying our software and hardware ecosystems under a single design language.”
This is hardly surprising. In terms of customization, Android has always distinguished itself from iOS by giving its base more freedom to configure the OS – including privacy settings – on its terms.
But the reality is that previously users needed to be a bit nerdy to do more than change the most superficial elements of their devices. With Android 12, Google wants to change this.
Here are the key changes that affect both Android developers and Android users…
A new privacy dashboard
An OS upgrade wouldn’t be an OS upgrade without some privacy dimension. Android 12 arrives with a Privacy Dashboard which reveals a timeline showing when apps accessed a particular type of data: location, camera, microphone, etc. Users can easily revoke app permissions from the dashboard.
However, Android 12 does give developers the chance to plead their case. There’s space here for you to explain why your app might need specified permissions.
Another privacy feature relates to the new mic and camera indicators. When they’re in use, a little oval appears. With a tap, users can see exactly which app is using these sensors in real-time – and revoke permissions if they wish.
Inevitably given the attention on privacy, Google has changed the location permissions on Android 12. Users can select ‘precise’ or ‘approximate’. The latter gives apps fuzzier coordinates.
When storage is running low, users face a tough choice about deleting lesser-used apps to free up space. The new app hibernation offers some respite. It will strip an app of its permissions and clear temporary files/cache to reduce space without the finality of the delete button.
A pat on the back for app launching
A new feature codenamed Columbus lets Android 12 users configure hardware or launch apps with a double-tap on the phone’s back. It’s only for Pixel phones initially.
More haptic options for developers
The main haptic-related change in Android 12 is the addition of “audio-coupled haptic effect.” In other words, the new OS converts any audio stream that has an audio session ID into haptic data. This will probably be of most interest to game makers, but creatively-minded developers in other genres might have some fun with it.
Notifications that rank incoming calls
Android 12 adds a template that lets your app indicate the importance of active calls. It displays a chip that shows the time of the call in the status bar. Users can tap it to return to the call.
Search is such a time saver. But it has its limits, not least when a device is offline. The new AppSearch feature lets users do searches for content inside apps at any time – whether connected or not. The app will simply pass the request to AppSearch, which will display results far more quickly than before.
For developers, AppSearch allows apps to index structured data and search over it with built-in full-text search capabilities. It also supports indexing and retrieval, multi-language support, and relevancy ranking.
More security on the lock screen
In previous Android versions, a user could respond to a notification by unlocking the device without authentication in certain circumstances – launching an activity or making a direct reply. Android 12 closes this security hole. It adds a new flag, so users can add an authentication request where needed.
In Android 12, a change to the wallpaper triggers a complementary change to the rest of the system. Widgets, buttons, backgrounds, and icons all change to match the new choice.
A clock that tells more than the time
There’s a new clock on the Android 12 screen. It’s big. And it sits in the center of the lock screen. But here’s the thing. The clock reduces in size and moves to the corner when there is a notification – which is a pretty neat way for users to know they have a new message.
An AOD that ‘knows’
When users go from the Always On Display (AOD) to the lock screen (or somewhere else), the transition animation will change according to what they have done. Example: lift the phone up from resting and the animation starts from the bottom.
Scrolling screenshot support
Being able to screenshot a page is useful. But the feature only lets a user capture what is on the visible screen. It cannot extend below or above. Android 12 solves this problem with native scrolling screenshot support.
Here, users take a screenshot as normal and tap the new “capture more” button to scroll and screenshot more of the screen. Later, they can edit and crop as desired.
Share wifi without QR code
The ability to share wifi easily with friends is one of the most welcome recent additions to Android. Previously it required a barcode scan. In Android 12, it’s quicker. Just hit the “nearby” button.
Google’s official release date for Android 12 was October 4th so expect to see it start rolling out to devices sometime in fall, likely alongside the Pixel 6.