Android 12 is well and truly on the way. Google finally showed off some of the major new features and design updates at Google I/O 2021, and in general, Android 12 could represent the biggest update to Android in a while.
We’re not expecting Android 12 to be released to the public until around September, but the first three betas of the operating system are available to brave users and developers that want to install it, provided they have an eligible phone.
Here’s everything we know about Android 12 so far.
During the Developer Preview phase of Android 12, we didn’t know all that much about the new operating system, but now that public betas are available, we have a pretty good look at what Android 12 will end up being. And there’s a lot there. Android 12 represents a massive design overhaul that will bring a slew of new features and dashboards, plus more.
Here’s a rundown of the new features on offer by Android 12:
A design refresh
Easily the biggest change to Android 12 comes in the form of a design refresh. Buttons are bigger and bolder, everything has large and rounded corners, and Google isn’t as concerned about taking up more space on the display. Android 12, it seems, is more about using space smartly than trying to pack more stuff into it.
These bigger icons seem to apply to pretty much every aspect of Android 12. Everything more or less works the same, but Settings menu options, Quick Settings panel, sliders, and so on are all much larger, bolder, and more colorful. Even the lock screen has gotten the treatment — when there aren’t any notifications, the clock takes up a majority of the display, and even with notifications, it’s large enough to easily see at a glance.
There are smaller tweaks to animations and motion in Android 12. For example, when you hit the power button, there’s an animation that illuminates the display from the button itself. It’s a cool touch.
Alongside the design refresh are new theming options. Google calls it “Material You,” and it essentially takes color scheme cues from your wallpaper. These include primary colors, and what Google calls “complementary” colors. The theming is actually systemwide, and even third-party developers can hook their apps into it to make for a more unified look.
Parts of Material You rolled out as part of the Android 12 Beta 2 in June, and further refinements came with the Pixel Launcher in Android 12 Beta 3.
Revamped notification shade
As part of the all-new design refresh, Google has moved some aspects of Android around — and as is tradition on Android, the notification shade gets one of the biggest revamps. Quick Settings, for example, are getting easier to access — you’ll be able to toggle four of your most-used Quick Settings on the first swipe of the notification shade, in the form of relatively large rectangular buttons. Then, you just swipe again to access all of your Quick Settings.
Android’s Power Menu will also be rolled into this new Quick Settings area. That means that you’ll be able to access your smart home controls and Google Pay wallet from the Quick Settings menu while holding the power button will instead trigger Google Assistant. This change came to Beta testers in Android 12 Beta 2.
Another small change Google is making is with a new Internet Panel for managing your connectivity. Google says it’s also meant to help users troubleshoot issues more easily and switch between providers faster, whether on Wi-FI or mobile data. This change also arrived with Beta 2.
New privacy controls
The general public is getting a little more hip to privacy, and Android 12 offers several features for the privacy-conscious. Most notable of these is the new Privacy Dashboard, which shows a range of information about the permissions you have granted to each app, and allows you to revoke specific permissions if you choose. You’ll also get information about permission usage, including a timeline of when apps have accessed your location.
Speaking of location, there are more location permissions in Android 12. You can now grant apps “approximate” location instead of specific location, which will come in handy for things like weather apps.
There are other features around privacy as well. As on iOS, there are now indicators for when your microphone, camera, and clipboard are being accessed. New toggles in Quick Settings will let you switch off the camera and microphone to preserve privacy.
Google is working to make other aspects of your data safer, too. Notably, Android 12 includes the new Android Private Computer Core. It’s a segmented section of Android that handles features like Smart Reply, Live Captions, and other A.I.-related features that focus on sensitive data.
Privacy Dashboard arrived with the Android 12 Beta 2.
Digital Car Key
Apple announced Car Key last year as a way for customers to use their phones to unlock their compatible car. Now, Google is following suit with Digital Car Key. Digital Car Key uses ultra wideband to allow users to unlock their cars with the phone still in the user’s pocket. There’s a backup in case the phone doesn’t support ultra wideband — the feature can also work through NFC.
Of course, this feature requires carmakers’ cooperation, and that could take some time. So far, only BMW has committed to using Apple’s Car Key, and BMW is also the first to support Digital Car Key. Hopefully, adoption by both Google and Apple will spur wider support from carmakers for the features.
Android TV remote
If you’re plugged into the Android ecosystem, you may use an Android TV device along with your Android phone, and Android 12 finally includes a built-in remote for Android TVs. The feature will work with the Chromecast with Google TV, or TVs that have Android TV built into them, and offers basic software controls, access to Google Assistant, and volume controls.
Previously, to use your phone as a remote for your Android TV, you needed to install an app, and you’ll no longer have to do that.
Better integration with Chrome OS
You can already use Nearby Share to share images between an Android phone and a Chromebook, but Google is working on taking a little friction out of the process. According to Google, Chrome OS’s Phone Hub will expand to include a new feature to show photos on your Android phone without needing to wait until those photos upload to the cloud. This feature is powered by Wi-Fi Direct.
Google is bringing a feature that’s previously been touted by third-party Android phone manufacturers — scrolling screenshots. With Android 12 Beta 3, Android now natively supports scrolling screenshots, allowing you to show more content in one screenshot. If you want to capture a long tweet thread, for example, you can now do so with the new “capture more” button that shows up when you take a screenshot.
This arrived with Android 12 Beta 3.
Google is also improving its universal search on Android 12. Now, developers will be able to index parts of their apps so that the Google search bar can pull up app content when users type in search terms. It was spotted earlier in developer builds of Android 12, but this is the first time Google is highlighting it in a beta release. If it pans out, Google could launch Android 12 with an iOS-style spotlight search feature, a tool that’s been missing from the operating system. This feature also arrived with Android 12 Beta 3.
Google is also improving a basic feature — autorotate. With Android 12, the operating system will now try to use your face to keep itself oriented. This use case is aimed at those who are usi9ng their phones in bed or lying down, and Google says that it won’t store any images captured via this method as it’ll be using its “Private Compute Core” system to keep this all private.
It’s available on the Pixel 4 and later so far with Android 12 Beta 3.
Gaming on an Android device is going to get a lot faster with the company’s new “play as you download” feature. Announced during the Google Games Developers Conference, Android phone gamers will be able to start a game while it’s being downloaded, much like you can do on some consoles. This change arrived in Android 12 Beta 3.
Google has shared the general road map for Android 12, but it hasn’t given a specific date as to when the operating system will be released to the public. Usually, new versions of Android release around September, and based on Google’s road map, that seems about right for this year.
Before the consumer version of Android 12, however, we have to go through the beta process. That’s split up into two phases: Developer previews and beta releases.
We’re currently toward the endpoint of the beta releases. The first Android 12 Developer Preview was released in February, with updates in both March and April. With the first three consumer betas already out, only one more is forthcoming, the one scheduled in August. This is expected to move Android 12 towards “Platform Stability.” The final Android 12 release for the general public is expected to come around September.
Of course, even when the consumer version of Android 12 is released, that doesn’t mean you’ll get it right away — or ever. The update will first come to Google Pixel phones and some select other devices, but it remains to be seen when it will arrive on other phones. If your phone has a relatively stripped-back operating system, like OxygenOS or Motorola’s My UX, it may get it sooner than others. Samsung’s One UI, for example, is heavily tweaked, and it may take some time for the company to create and implement a cohesive interface that respects both One UI and Android 12’s design principles.