The latest version of Google’s flagship operating system, Android 12, is officially live, at least as far as developer source code is concerned.
The newer version actually landing on Google Pixel phones is only a few weeks away, but some people are already using the new features and design updates Google showcased at Google I/O 2021.
Android 12: Material ‘You’
Android 12 is the biggest interface change since Android 5 Lollipop. It comes with a brand new design philosophy called Material You. It’s basically an advanced theme engine that makes the interface respond to the dominant colors of your background so that hardly any two phones are the same.
This applies to all the latest system-level UI elements on Pixel phones, including lock screen, notification screen, settings, widgets, icons, Discover feed, Gboard, the loading animation – basically anything you can think of. Even apps can log into this system and customize their themes accordingly.
It’s definitely a divisive design direction, but so far it seems like Google is spending tons of resources upgrading all of its apps before the stable release, which gives me hope that the company will finally make everything look like it. it with the same building blocks.
There are even a few third-party apps that already take advantage of the theme system (like Tasker or Inware), but I’m afraid many other major developers like Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft are more concerned about keeping their apps inside. line with their own designs, corporate and colors.
If you don’t like this dynamic theme at all or prefer to choose colors independently of your background, you can, although the options are very limited. Depending on your background, you can choose from four slightly different themes and a total of four “basic” themes, independent of your background: blue, green, purple and brown.
Google has also started implementing Samsung-esque app bars in some apps, with huge titles sitting far from the top of the screen until you start scrolling, i.e. when the font collapses into a normal app bar . It should help with one-handed use and accessibility with increasingly larger smartphone screens.
So far, though, we’ve only seen this behavior in a few system apps like Settings, so I’m not entirely sure if Google will seriously pursue this design any time soon. Regardless, app and device developers are encouraged to use Google’s guidelines for large app bars in the future.
The redesign is so massive that even the overscroll animation hasn’t been left untouched. Instead of the familiar sticky glow effect that Android 11 and earlier versions use, Android 12 comes with a new extensible animation.
It’s a bit like the iOS overscroll solution, but it feels less playful because it doesn’t really bounce back. The elements on the top stick to the top, so it’s more like stretching a rubber band than bouncing a rubber ball.
Android 12: Revamped UX
Interface changes are not limited to the theme and Material You. Everything is rounder and more fun in the entire Pixel interface, starting with the huge clock that appears on the lock screen when you’re out of notifications. It moves to the top left corner when messages and other pings are waiting for you.
Not even the PIN entry screen was left untouched, which now features circular buttons and a monochrome background; your background will no longer be visible while typing, as will the notification shade. In addition to losing the transparent background, the notification shade now organizes pings into circular bubbles, divided into the same groups as before: Conversations, Notifications, and Silence.
At the top, you’ll only see four speedy flip flops at a time (compared to six on Android 11), alive in new colorful pill-shaped chips, depending on your background. When listening to music or other media, you will also find playback controls right below the quick switches, just like you did before.
High-speed Wi-Fi and cellular network switches have also given way to a unified internet chip that you must use before you can choose to turn Wi-Fi and/or your cellular connection on or off. It may take up less space, but it’s bulkier and less intuitive than two dedicated buttons for one or the other.
Speaking of long-pressing the power button, Android 12 has changed the shortcut to match the number of third-party manufacturers already using it: by calling up Google Assistant. It’s safe to assume that the pressure-sensitive sides to assistant access aren’t coming back to Pixel phones anytime soon.
In any case, the power menu is still quickly accessible by pressing the power and volume up buttons at the same time, although most of the functionality has been removed, you probably won’t need to access it as often. Thankfully, the new long-press wizard hotkey is optional on older phones, but that doesn’t change the fact that the power menu is now largely stripped down.
This reorganization is boring enough for those of us who live and breathe Android day in and day out, but I can’t even imagine how frustrating it will be for people standing at the register and unable to access their cards GPay like they usually do. I know the new long press hotkey is meant to bring out the assistant, but there’s no good reason to clear the power menu if you make it easily accessible via a new hotkey.
Android 12: New widgets
The Pixel Launcher’s home screen has also received a minor makeover. The changes become especially noticeable when you enable thematic icons, which give you monochrome app icons that take their colors from your Material You theme and wallpaper.
However, Google was quick to add a beta tag to the feature. Only Google apps currently support it, not all of them. There isn’t yet a public API for third-party developers to take advantage of, and as with Material You itself, it’s questionable whether larger companies like Facebook will agree to change their logo for each user. Using themed icons at this point makes for a much busier and downright broken home screen if you dare to install anything other than Google apps on your phone.
Aside from themed icons, the At-a-glance widget at the top of the default homepage has been replaced with Live Space, which is left-aligned and feels a bit broken in its current beta state, with settings not functional and the weather report gone completely. If you’re to believe the teased and leaked Pixel 6 screenshots, Google wants to make this widget a little more useful.
It should be able to display upcoming flights with a check-in QR code visible right on your home screen, and there seems to be options for third-party apps to connect to it too.
In fact, widgets in general are expected to make a comeback in Android 12, at least if third-party developers jump on the Google train. By default, all widgets now have rounded corners that fit nicely into the new pleasenosharpedges design language, and developers can use the Material You engines to extract the underlying background colors to use as the background for their widgets.
Google is largely doing this with the brand new widgets for its own apps, such as Clock, Calendar, Drive, Chrome and Keep, but it remains to be seen how many more developers will join them. A few widgets from Google also support Android.
The 12 new widget editing tool that only exposes an edit button when you long press it, which is a step up from the old widgets that had to leave a gear icon permanently visible if you wanted them to be editable.
At one point, Google even experimented with iOS-style stacked widgets, but right now it doesn’t look like they’ll be up and running anytime soon. Maybe under Android 13?
Android 12: New Features
Although Android 12 laser focuses on color and design, it has some notable features. My favorite on my Pixel 3 is Universal Search, which Google pulled from Android archives (think of the dedicated hardware search button on early phones).
It’s only accessible when you swipe up on your home screen to open the app drawer and tap the search bar (but you can also toggle a switch that automatically opens the keyboard once you hit the search bar. Enter the app launcher).
You can search for apps like you did before, but the results also include contacts, settings, pixel hints, and app shortcuts, giving you a pretty powerful tool selection.
I still don’t use it as much as I’d like (muscle memory) and I wish there were more powerful links to Google apps like Maps, Calendar, and Keep, not to mention third-party apps like WhatsApp.
For some reason, Slack already integrates very well with it, with almost all my DM contacts available, so maybe there’s just an API that other apps can use too. Again, the apps work well with universal search, I really see the potential. It’s not quite Sesame yet, one of the best universal third-party search tools for Android, but it’s getting there. (If, of course, Google doesn’t dump it in the next version.)
Another boon for Pixel users is scrolling screenshot support, which almost all other manufacturers have already added to their phones themselves. Google says it wanted to get the implementation right, and it does seem to be the most solid solution. While some manufacturers make long screenshots by automatically scrolling through the current view until you tell the tool to stop, Google lets you dynamically choose which parts you want to save without relying on some hacks, and it works really well for the most part.
As with most recent Android releases, Google has also added improvements in the permissions department. Android 12 introduces a new privacy dashboard that shows which apps have accessed which permissions on your device in the last 24 hours, with a focus on location, microphone and camera.
You can see a timeline that shows exactly when individual apps accessed what data, and there are shortcuts to go straight to an app’s permissions overview to instantly disable anything you don’t like. You can expand the view to see almost all of the permissions available: body sensors, calendar, call logs, contacts, files and media, nearby devices, phone, physical activity, and texting.
Google has also improved its location-sensitive permission after already making it much more granular in Android 10 and 11. It’s possible to allow apps to only access your approximate location, which is useful for services like weather apps that don’t need it to know exactly where you are in order to provide you with relevant information. Right now, most apps don’t work with the respective APIs as they claim they don’t have location permissions when the estimated option is enabled.
Then there are new quick settings toggles in your notification shade that allow you to disable camera and microphone access for all apps on your phone at once, worldwide. This is in addition to the new microphone and camera indicators that appear in the top right corner of your screen when an app opens either. After showing a small icon that represents a microphone, camera, or both, a green dot will remain permanently visible until the respective app stops using the permission.
Security APIs and misc.
Like almost every other Android update in recent history, Android 12 has also added new emoji. There are nearly 1,000 reworked existing emoji and a few new ones that are part of Unicode Update 14. Our very own Ryne Hager delved deep into the new, highlighting the key changes. Better news: Google is decoupling emoji from Android 12 system updates, so you should be able to access new emoji much faster than before. No more broken squares instead of the last smileys, yes.
Android 10 has already improved Wi-Fi password sharing with QR code support, but Android 12 adds another option. You can use Share Close to send a password. I doubt it’s faster than just asking a guest to open their camera app and scan the code, but it’s a welcome improvement nonetheless.
There are also quite a few changes under the hood that you may not notice right away, but will make your life much easier. A new API improves the process of copying and pasting rich content and text between apps, and apps open faster from notifications thanks to the deprecation of an older system.
Third-party alarm clocks are more reliable and accurate with new authorization, and third-party cameras may be able to use more special camera modes.
For those of us with a lot of smart home devices, Android 12 can keep the Wi-Fi connection to your router active while you’re connected to your latest gadget, at least if your phone supports it at a hardware level.
In terms of security, Android Runtime has become a Project Mainline module, meaning we have yet another part of the system that can be updated through the Play Store without the need for a full system update, keeping devices safe even after they are no longer receive Android updates.
There are many more detailed changes, so be sure to check out our unofficial Android 12 changelog with every new feature we’ve found (so far). We’ll be sure to update it once the final version hits Pixel phones, but until then it’s still a valuable preview of all the minor changes made to your phone.