The Android operating system has come a very long way from its humble and awkward beginnings. Instead of the mobile platform being an underdog, unprepared to serve power users and those who need a mobile device designed for business, Android is now perfectly adept at handling everything you throw at it and be the most personal Google OS ever.
There are areas where the platform could use some polish–that’s where Android 12 comes into play. The latest iteration of Google’s mobile operating system brings new features and tweaks to various elements, as well as improvements to privacy and even haptic feedback.
Let’s find out what’s new to Android 12 and what features might have you champing at the bit to upgrade your current version of the operating system. Read this Android 12 cheat sheet to get up to speed on Google’s latest OS. We’ll update this resource periodically when there is new information about Android 12.
What is Android 12?
Android 12 is the latest release of Google’s mobile operating system, and it is seamlessly integrated with Google’s app ecosystem. That means, out of the box, Android pairs perfectly with the likes of Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Photos and just about any of the apps offered within Google Workspaces, for business users.
Android also happens to be the most widely-used mobile operating system on the planet, with over 83% of global smartphones shipped with Android to date in 2021.
As with the later releases of Android, Google has done away with the pastry nomenclature, and opted for a simple numerical naming convention–hence, Android 12.
What new features come with Android 12?
As far as new features coming to Android 12, everything listed here is based on the developer preview and announcements from Google I/O 2021.
New features in the second beta release
The second beta release is out for Android 12 and there are a few very important features to have been added into the mix. Those features include:
- Privacy Dashboard: Any user looking to gain more information and control over privacy will find this new feature a boon. The Privacy Dashboard allows users to view what data has been accessed on a device, as well as how often that data has been accessed. This new dashboard (which is accessed through Settings | Privacy | Privacy Dashboard) displays what apps and services have accessed your mic, camera, body sensors, Calendar and more.
- Mic and Camera On/Off Toggles: Finally, users can manually disable (system-wide) both the microphone and camera. This is done from the Quick Settings tiles in the Notification Shade. Users will also be shown (via a small icon in the status bar) when the camera or mic is being accessed. If a user believes either of these is being used when they shouldn’t be, all they have to do is pull down the Notification Shade and tap to disable either the Mic, the Camera or both.
- Clipboard Read Notification: When an application accesses the system clipboard, users will now be notified of this action. This will make it possible for users to know if an app that isn’t being used has accessed the clipboard. However, it should be noted that the system will not warn the user if the clipboard contents were copied from the same app being used.
- Material You Updates: When the beta 1 release was made available, the UX received a massive update, which included Material You. However, there was one important feature left out of that update, which was the automated theming based on the selected home screen wallpaper. With beta 2, that is now included. When you change the home screen wallpaper on Android 12, your system theme will automatically change, based on the color palette found within the image used for the home screen.
For those interested in check out the Android beta, check out How to get the Android 12 beta.
New features in the Developer Preview 2 release
With the second release of the Android 12 Developer Preview on March 17, 2021, there are a few new features that have been added, such as:
- Developers can now require authentication for actions implemented from the lock screen
- Android can now verify the integrity of an installed app and prevent a questionable app from displaying content via overlay alerts
- New frameworks have been released to make it possible for development teams to write apps for phones with rounded corners
New Android 12 features announced during Google I/O 2021
On May 18, 2021, during the Google I/O keynote, the following features were announced:
- The lock screen will be more playful with dynamic lighting
- The notification shade will be more intuitive
- Quick Settings has been redesigned to include Google Pay and Home Controls
- Google Assistant can be invoked by long-pressing the power button
- CPU time has been reduced by 22%, making everything in Android faster
- Privacy Dashboard will be an easy to use location to manage app permissions
- An indicator will appear when an app is using the camera or the mic
- Quick settings now include toggles to disable the mic and camera systemwide
- Android Private Compute Core, which powers the likes of Android Caption and doesn’t share information with any other app or service
AVIF image support
One of most anticipated features coming to Android 12 is AVIF image support. This new image format will greatly improve the compression of images without compromising the quality of the images. That means larger images files can be transmitted, using less bandwidth. This isn’t just a boon for users who like to consume images throughout the day, it also means developers can integrate even more visual elements into their apps, without causing bottlenecks, buffering, or data consumption issues. This new format uses the open source video codec AV1 which was first introduced in Android 10.
Compatible media transcoding
Google is adding a new transcoding layer to Android 12 that will make it possible for apps that don’t currently support the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) video compression standard to take advantage of this much-improved video compression. This new standard is the successor to the widely-used Advanced Video Coding compression format and offers 25-50% better data compression at the same video quality level.
Like the addition of AVIF image support, HEVC will make it possible for developers to deliver more video while using less bandwidth.
This compatibility layer, however, should only be considered a stop-gap for developers. Google is urging all developers to include HEVC support in their apps.
Third-party app store support
Android developers are working to make it possible for users to safely install apps from third-party app stores, with some assurances that by doing so, their device security won’t be compromised.
How the developers plan on pulling this off is unknown, as of this moment. The why, however, has been made clear. Google is planning this change as a result of recent concerns surrounding Android app development and the difficulties found with in-app payment systems for businesses that have been forced to move online, due to COVID-19.
However, it should be noted that in-app payments for apps found in the Google Play Store will not change. Google has made it very clear that all apps with in-app payments must use Google Play’s billing system.
This next new feature will have a significant impact on Android battery life. App Hibernation will effectively hibernate all apps that aren’t currently in use. This means only those apps in use will drain your device battery. This feature will also clear your app cache automatically.
Android Split Screen already allows you to use two apps at once, but with Android 12, a new feature, called App Pairs, will allow users to open two apps that are commonly used together simultaneously. This feature will group two apps together as one single “task.”
With App Pairs, users will be able to pick two recently opened apps and make them a pair. Once those apps are paired, users can then easily switch between a single app and a pair.
New theming system
The developers are also bringing a new theming system to Android 12. This system will allow users to select a main and accent color for apps, or allow them to have their system theme be based on their current wallpaper.
Haptic audio effect
With Android 12, developers will be able to combine haptic feedback patterns with audio. This could not only benefit games, but the ability of users to identify callers, based on haptic feedback, or include haptic feedback while listening to music.
SEE: Power checklist: Managing and troubleshooting Android devices (TechRepublic Premium)
Android 12 will bring double-tap actions to supported devices (at the moment, that is limited to Google Pixel phones). With this feature, you can configure actions for when you double-tap the back of your phone. Currently supported actions include:
- Taking a screenshot
- Playing and pausing media
- Viewing recent apps
- Opening the notification shade
- Launching Google Assistant
Until now, using a larger device with one hand poses a challenge, especially for those with smaller digits. Android 12 will bring about a new One-Handed Mode. This new feature is similar to iPhone’s Reachability feature. When this is enabled, it’ll migrate the interface to the middle of your display, putting everything within reach.
Another more one-handed friendly feature is called Silky Home, which migrates most enable/disable toggles to the center of the screen.
Less control for more media
Not every application that plays media should have access to the Quick Settings media control panel. With Android 12, users can enable or disable individual app access to Quick Settings. This will make for a much cleaner Quick Settings control panel.
What enhancements are in Android 12?
Now we’ll take a look at some of the enhancements of previous features that are coming to Android 12.
Improved Wi-Fi sharing
Back in Android 10, Google made it quite easy to share a Wi-Fi connection, using a QR code. That’s all fine and good, when a user is standing next to you so they can quickly scan the code. With Android 12, the developers are going to take advantage of Nearby Share, so users can send Wi-Fi configuration (SSID/password) via Bluetooth to nearby devices so a recipient only has to be within Bluetooth range.
The one caveat to this is that Bluetooth packets are fairly easy to intercept. Hopefully Google will find a way to encrypt Wi-Fi information that is shared via this method.
The Google developers are planning to make the Android Runtime a Mainline module in Android 12. What this does is allow Google to deliver more operating system component updates via the Google Play Store. This will have two effects:
- Updates will be smaller and more frequent
- Updates will be faster
Anyone that has experienced a lengthy security patch update will appreciate the importance of this improvement.
Better screenshot markup
Android 12 will bring to the screenshot tool the ability to add text, Emoji and stickers, without having to rely on a third-party tool.
Gesture improvement and cleaner UI
The UI has been completely overhauled, every bit inspired by Material You. Google Pixel devices will use Color Extraction which means the system will create a custom palette based on photos used as wallpaper. Every Android interface will be one-of-a-kind.
New Material Design ability such that form could follow feeling with the ability to create personal design palettes that respond in real-time. Apps will adapt comfortably and give users transformative control. Material You is a radical new way of theming Android. There’ll be a mode for every mood, and will be able to travel across all of your connected devices.
Improvements in the Developer Preview 2 release
There are also a few improvements to be found in the Android 12 Developer Preview 2 release, such as:
- Picture-in-picture (PiP) control can be handled by way of a single tap on a PiP window to display the window controls; double-tapping a PiP window toggles between the current and the maximum PiP size
- Improvements to app bandwidth estimations
- Developers will have a much easier time producing blurs, color filters and miscellaneous effects
- New APIs have been introduced to keep apps running on companion devices (such as smartwatches and fitness trackers)
What security features are in Android 12?
One of the biggest additions to Android’s security will affect the WebView engine that third-party apps use to view online content (outside of the Chrome browser). WebView will be adopting Chrome’s SameSite cookie setting which will mitigate certain types of tracking. Google Assistant will also quickly help you fix compromised passwords.
Android Private Compute Core powers the likes of Android Caption and doesn’t share information with any other app or service.
Another new security feature is Privacy toggles, which will allow users to quickly turn off access to their device microphone and/or camera. These toggles will be available within the Quick Settings menu in the notification shade. The toggles will read Block Camera and Mute Microphone.
Locked photos allow users to password protect specific folders in Photos. This will first arrive on Google Pixel devices and will later roll out to other supported devices.
How can developers start using Android 12?
On February 18, 2021, Google released the developer preview of Android 12. That release is aimed specifically at developers, so Google made sure the apps are compatible with the new OS and features.
To get started, developers will need to flash a device system image to one of the following Google Pixel devices:
- Pixel 3/3 XL
- Pixel 3a/3a XL
- Pixel 4/4 XL
- Pixel 4a/4a 5G
- Pixel 5
When will Android 12 be released?
The public beta of Android 12 was made available on May 18, 2021. On June 9, 2021, Google released the 2nd iteration of the Android 12 beta. On July 14, 2021, Google released the 3rd iteration of the Android 12 beta. On Aug. 11, 2021, Android 12 beta 4 was released. In September, Android 12 beta 5 was released. On Oct. 4, 2021, Android 12 source code was released, signaling a final release soon.
The Android 12 Developer Preview has been released and is available for the Google Pixel 5, Pixel 4a 5G, Pixel 4a, Pixel 4, Pixel 4 XL, Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a, and Pixel 3a XL. You can download a Developer Preview 2 image and flash it to your device to test the preview release.
Editor’s note: This cheat sheet has been updated to reflect the Android 12 beta 4 release.