Android 12 improves the user experience from Android 11 and adds exciting features to the platform. Here's what developers, businesses and users need to know about Google's Android 12.
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.
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.
SEE: Top Android security tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
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.
SEE: Android 11: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
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 that was released on Feb. 18, 2021.
New features found in the Developer Preview 2 release
With the second release of the Android 12 Developer Preview, 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
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.
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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)
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 Android developers are continuing to improve gesture navigation. With Android 12, the developers are changing the default to allow users to more easily navigate their UI with a single swipe. There will also be subtle changes to the overall UI, to make it cleaner and more modern looking.
SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides (TechRepublic)
Improvements found 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.
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.
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.
- Pixel 3/3 XL
- Pixel 3a/3a XL
- Pixel 4/4 XL
- Pixel 4a/4a 5G
- Pixel 5
When will Android 12 be released?
As of now, there is no definitive release date for Android 12. However, if we follow the trends from previous years, the final release should land sometime in September 2021, with the public beta coming sometime in May 2021.
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 include information from the Android 12 Developer Preview 2 release.
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