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 actually be released to the public until around September, but the beta version of the operating system is available to brave users and developers that want to install it on their compatible device.
Here’s everything we know about Android 12 so far.
What are the new features in Android 12?
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, along with a slew of new features and dashboards, and 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 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, 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 that design refresh, however, are new theming options. Google calls the new theming “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 completely system-wide, and even third-party developers can hook their apps into it to make for a more unified look.
While most of the actual design changes have rolled out as part of Beta 1, unfortunately the Material You theming won’t come out until later.
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, swipe again to access all of your Quick Settings.
Eventually, Android’s Power Menu will be rolled into this new Quick Settings area, too. That means that you’ll be able to access your smart home controls and your Google Pay wallet from the Quick Settings menu — while holding the power button will instead trigger Google Assistant. For now, the Power Menu still exists on Android, but that will eventually change through the beta process.
New privacy controls
The general public is getting a little more hip to privacy, and Android 12 offers a number of features for the privacy-aware. Most notable of those 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 want to do so. 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. Now, you can 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. Like on iOS, there are now indicators for when your microphone and camera are in use.
Google is working to make other aspects of your data safer, too. Notably, Android 12 includes the new Android Private Computer Core. The Private Computer Core is kind of a segmented section of Android that handles features like Smart Reply, Live Captions, and other A.I.-related features that could handle sensitive data.
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, though obviously the phone has to support Ultra Wideband in the first place. There’s a backup in case it doesn’t — 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 carmakers to adopt wider support 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’ve needed to install an app — and you’ll no longer have to do that.
Better integration with Chrome OS
Chrome OS and Android phones are set to work together a little better as well. According to Google, Chrome OS will get a feature to show photos on your Android phone without needing to wait until those photos upload to the cloud. This feature uses Wi-Fi Direct.
When will I get Android 12?
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 at the beginning of the Beta releases. The first Android 12 Developer Preview was released in February, with updates in both March and April. Now that we’re in May, the first Beta has rolled out, with more set to arrive in June, July, and August. After that is when we’ll finally get the official consumer release of Android 12.
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 iron out all the bugs that come with applying One UI to the new version of Android for all its devices.