Android 12 beta arrives – here are the 19 changes coming to your phone

The Android 12 beta is on, with Google announcing that the first official Android 12 Developer Preview is now available to adventurous app developers.

While we’re likely months from an Android 12 release date for consumers (last year’s Android update launched September 8), today’s beta sheds light the changes coming to Android phones. You don’t have to wait until Google IO 2021 to find out.

Android 12 beta features include better-looking images vs standard JPEG files, faster and more responsive app notifications, and more privacy measures – or at least the promise to be more transparent about the use of your data. Google is also making app compatibility easier across devices like foldable phones and Android tablets.

The 19 new Android 12 features outlined are split into three categories, according to Dave Burke, Google’s VP of Engineering who wrote a blog post about the changes. We’ve expanded upon them below with some more depth.

First, how to get Android 12 – and why it’s so difficult

Downloading the Android 12 beta is not advised for consumers. This is strictly meant for experienced Android app developers, according to Burke.

To get Android 12 Developer Preview on your device you must download it manually on a supported device. Right now Android 12 compatibility is limited to the Google Pixel 5, Pixel 4 and Pixel 4a series, or Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a series.

“You can flash a factory image to your Pixel device, or you can sideload an OTA image to a Pixel device running Android 11, in which case you won’t need to unlock your bootloader or wipe data,” says to Burke.

“Either way, once you’ve manually installed a preview build, you’ll automatically get future updates over-the-air for all later previews and Betas.”

An Android 12 public beta is coming for consumers down the line. Google expects to open up beta enrollments when it gets closer to shipping the final software.

Android 12 beta tweaks the user experience

Compatible media transcoding
While most camera apps capture video using the newer HEVC format for enhanced quality and compression purposes, apps that use older codecs can automatically transcode file into AVC, a format that is widely compatible.

AVIF image support
Android 12 is looking to ditch the older JPEG format for something that offers a higher image quality and more efficient compression. Enter AV1 Image File Format (AVIF). AVIF photos compressed to be the same size as JPEG won’t show quality loss.

Foreground service optimizations
Apps that overuse foreground services to manage certain user tasks will be blocked. Also, Google is reducing distraction for users by delaying displaying of foreground service notifications by up to 10 seconds.

Rich content insertion
When upgrading to Android 12, it’ll be easier to copy content, including rich content, from one app to another thanks to a new unified API that accepts from any source: clipboard, keyboard, or drag and drop, etc.

Haptic-coupled audio effect
Apps will be able to provide audio-coupled haptic feedback through the phone’s vibrator. Vibration strength and frequency are derived from an audio session, so developers can simulate rough terrain in a racing game, for example. 

Multi-channel audio
Android 12 will support MPEG-H playback in passthrough and offload mode, and the audio mixers, resamplers and effects have been optimized for up to 24 channels (the previous maximum was 8), according to Burke.

Immersive mode improvements for gesture nav
Google has simplified immersive mode so that gesture navigation is easier and more consistent. The example given is when you’re watching a video, reading a book, or playing a game. It’s still protecting apps from accidental gestures when in full-screen experiences, but in all other full-screen or immersive experiences the company is changing the default to allow users to navigate their phone with one swipe.

Notification UI updates
Android 12 will refresh the notification design to make them more modern. What does this mean? In this developer first preview, the app drawer and controls will have new templates. It’s also optimizing transitions and animations across the system to make them more smooth.

Faster, more responsive notifications
To keep notifications responsive, Android 12 will block notification “trampolines” by preventing them from launching their target Activities, says Google, and it’s asking developers to migrate away from this pattern.

Improved Binder IPC calls
Google is taking a look at latency and workload distribution in Android 12, and making optimizations that reduce the median experience from the tail end, or 99% percentile use case.

Google promises better privacy measure in Android 12

Modern SameSite cookie behaviors in WebView
In line with changes to Chrome and other browsers, WebView includes new SameSite cookie behaviors to provide additional security and privacy and give users more transparency and control over how cookies can be used across sites.

Restricted Netlink MAC
We’re continuing to help developers migrate to privacy-protecting resettable identifiers. In a multi-release effort to ease migration of device-scoped Netlink MAC, in Android 11 we restricted access to it based on API level 30, and in Android 12 we’re applying the restriction for all apps – regardless of targetSDK level. 

Safer exporting of components
To prevent apps from inadvertently exporting activities, services, and receivers, we’re changing the default handling of the android;exported attribute to be more explicit. With this change, components that declare one or more intent filters must now explicitly declare an android:exported attribute. You should inspect your components in the manifest in order to avoid installation errors related to this change.

Safer handling of Intents
To make handling PendingIntents more secure, Android 12 requires apps to explicitly declare a mutability flag, either FLAG_MUTABLE or the new FLAG_IMMUTABLE, for each PendingIntent.

Android 12 promises enhanced app compatibility

Android 12 will work better on tablets, foldables, and TVs
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Google care too much about tablet hardware, but the company is at least making an effort to have its software works on such devices, as well as TVs and foldable phones. The promise of ensuring tablet apps scale well will go a long way to rivaling the iPad.

Updated lists of non-SDK interfaces
Google has restricted additional non-SDK interfaces, according to the official blog post.

Easier testing and debugging of changes
To make it easier for you to test the opt-in changes that can affect your app,  Google has made many of them toggleable. WIth the toggles you can force-enable or disable the changes individually from Developer options or adb.

Platform stability milestone
Like last year, we’re letting you know our Platform Stability milestone well in advance, to give you more time to plan for app compatibility work. At this milestone we’ll deliver not only final SDK/NDK APIs, but also final internal APIs and app-facing system behaviors. We’re expecting to reach Platform Stability by August 2021, and you’ll have several weeks before the official release to do your final testing. The release timeline details are here. 

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