Image: prima91/Adobe Stock

On August 15, 2022, Google released the 13th major iteration of the Android platform. This release comes just slightly earlier in the year than did Android 12 and serves to add some serious polish to the big changes that came along.

For those anxious to get your hands on this latest incarnation of the Android platform, that time has either already come, or you may have an extended wait on your hands. Either way, once Android 13 makes its way to your device, you will be glad for the upgrade.

In this TechRepublic cheat sheet, we’ll introduce what Android 13 is, when you should expect it, and what new features and improvements to expect. This cheat sheet will be updated as necessary and will serve as a guidepost to Google’s latest mobile operating system (OS).

What is Android 13?

Android 13 (code name Tiramisu) is the 2022 release of Google’s mobile operating system. This latest iteration of the platform arrived after four beta cycles and a preview release that landed in February 2022.

Android itself is the most widely used mobile operating system on the planet, with an 86.2% global market share. That global market share has held steady in the 80s since 2014, with its lowest rank being 81.1% in 2014.

When you break down the market share by country, you do find Android’s hold on consumers to wane considerably. For example, in the U.S., Android has a 48.5% share, while iOS holds 51.2%. As of May 2022, Android 11 was the most widely-used version of the platform, with 28.3%. That, of course, will most likely change once more handsets start picking up the 13th release and more devices migrate to 12.

SEE: iCloud vs. OneDrive: Which is best for Mac, iPad and iPhone users? (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

One of the issues facing Android 13 is that it stands in the shadow of Android 12, which brought about one of the biggest changes to the platform since its inception. Material You introduced a brand new look and feel for Android, which gave it a much-needed refresh to bring it in line with current aesthetics.

What does that mean for Android 13? It could mean that, at least for some users, the latest release of the operating system will be a disappointment. The devil, of course, is in the details. There are plenty of new features and changes to get excited about.

Android 13 release dates

Android 13 began rolling out to Pixel devices on August 15, 2022. However, that doesn’t mean all Pixel users received the update on that day. Case in point, it’s now three days after the announced release, and my Pixel 6 Pro has yet to receive the OTA (over-the-air) update. I certainly could side-load the install, but I’ve learned, over the years, that’s not always the best route to a successful upgrade.

Nevertheless, Android 13 has officially been released and will arrive for supported Pixel devices first. Those supported Pixel phones include everything from the Pixel 4 on up. So, if you’re a Pixel 1, 2 or 3 owner, it’s time to upgrade if you want Android 13.

What features come with Android 13?

This is what you really want to know. And there’s plenty to see in this category — only, much of it might be a bit more subtle than Android fans were hoping for. Be that as it may, here’s a short list of the more exciting features to be coming along with the new release.

Three new Material You color schemes

Developers, manufacturers and users will now have access to three new “tonal spot” colors, namely Vibrant (supplemental accents), Expressive (wider range of colors that extend to the background) and Spritz (monochromatic theme). This addition will be quite subtle, and some users might not even notice it.

Improved launcher search

This addition will most likely be limited to Pixel phones only and will serve as a much-needed improvement over the previous search tool. With the revamped functionality, users will be able to issue searches:

  • On-device actions
  • Play Store apps
  • YouTube
  • Google

There will also be a gesture component to the search, which will react differently, based on whether you swipe up from the bottom or simply tap the search bar. Users will also be able to pin search results to the Android home screen.

Improved notifications

The notifications also receive some extra attention by way of a new opt-in system. As of Android 13, the system will no longer allow an app to display notifications unless a user explicitly gives permission. Any time a new application is installed, when it is first opened, a permissions pop-up will appear (Figure A), requiring the user to allow or disallow notifications for that app.

Figure A

The opt-in notification pop-up for DuckDuckGo on Android 13
Figure A: The opt-in notification pop-up for DuckDuckGo on Android 13.

Faster access to QR code scanning

In previous incarnations, scanning a QR code meant either installing a third-party app or using Google Assistant. Either way, it was never the most efficient method. Now, users will have access to a QR code Quick Settings Tile (Figure B).

Figure B

The new QR Code Quick Settings Tile on Android 13
Figure B: The new QR Code Quick Settings Tile on Android 13.

Tap the tile, and the built-in QR Code Scanner will open.

Per-app languages

With Android 13, users can now set their desired languages on a per-app basis. Say, for instance, you have associates that you frequently message who live in Germany. If that’s the case, you can set the language for the Messages app to German. The only caveat to this feature is that it must be enabled within the app, so users probably won’t see the feature immediately.

Better battery information

Android 12 did an amazing job at improving the battery life of Android devices. Case in point, the infamous Pixel 4 devices suffered mightily under the strain of an underpowered battery. With Android 11, the Pixel 4 was lucky to make it through a quarter to half of a day. Once upgraded to Android 12, the battery life greatly improved.

With Android 13, one very important addition has been made. When an app is causing excessive battery drain, which I’ve experienced several times, the system will alert you with a silent notification. Having been alerted to the situation, you can then force close the app or restart your device to resolve the issue.

UWB support

Ultra-Wideband (UWB) is a new technology that makes it possible for a mobile device to act as a car key and as a locator for lost devices, and it helps improve both NFC and Bluetooth connections.

The one previous issue with UWB support is that the device must have had a built-in UWB antenna, which the Pixel 6 Pro does. With the release of Android 13, there’s a new hardware abstraction layer that adds this functionality, so all Android devices can implement UWB.

Bluetooth Low-Energy Audio

Standard Bluetooth audio streams have always been problematic, especially when it comes to multi-stream support and energy consumption. With Android 13, Bluetooth Low-Energy Audio is now fully realized.

With this, users will experience lower energy usage while still enjoying the same quality of audio, the ability to simultaneously stream to multiple headphones and speakers, and full support for Google’s new Bluetooth hearing aid protocol. This means hearing aids will enjoy more reliable connections to Android than with previous incarnations.

More customizable lock screen

When Material You hit devices, some users complained that the lock-screen clock was a bit “extra.” It was huge, especially when there were no notifications to display. Android 13 gives users a toggle to disable that massive clock. In Settings > Display > Lock Screen, you’ll find an ON/OFF toggle for the double-line clock (Figure C).

Figure C

A toggle for the Double-line clock in Android 13
Figure C: The ability to shrink the lock screen clock has arrived.

Toggle the double-line clock to Off, and say goodbye to the huge lock-screen clock.

Improved photo picker

The new release adds a special photo picker for including images in messages. Instead of the app opening to a full-blown photo picker, a more streamlined version will appear which will help preserve your privacy and only make certain the app only has access to the photos you select. This new feature has yet to make it to every service, as developers have to integrate it for it to appear.

Android 13 privacy and security

Aside from the opt-in permissions, Google has gone out of its way to make privacy and security a no-brainer. The new OS will impose more limitations on apps and give more control to users over what permissions are granted and what data can be accessed. Along those same lines, Android 13 requires apps to request permission to access various file types, such as audio, images and videos.

SEE: Mobile device security policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Another security feature found in Android 13 is that the system will automatically delete clipboard contents after a certain interval. By doing this, apps will not have access to older items in the clipboard, which has caused security issues in the past. This also means users will be less likely to accidentally share a piece of copied text with the wrong person.

Along with the opt-in app permissions, Android 13 will automatically revoke permissions from apps that haven’t been used for a long period.

Google has completely reworked how security updates are handled. With the new Google System Updates framework, the operating system is broken down into components, so updates can be sent to devices for specific “modules” instead of having to update the entire OS. This means faster rollouts of updates and faster patching.

Finally, Google has committed to rewriting some of the code base for critical components in more secure languages such as Rust and has developed the Google Play SDK Index to provide extra transparency for the most-used software development kits (SDKs).

What phones are able to get Android 13?

As usual, the new release will first be available for Pixel devices. Expect the rollout to Pixel 4, 5 and 6 devices to finish up during the third quarter of 2022, and the wider release for Samsung, OnePlus and other manufacturers is expected to begin in Q4 of 2022 and trickle into Q1 of 2023.

The Pixel 7 will be the first device released with Android 13, which should become available as soon as October. Google has never been quite accurate with its Android release dates. Even knowing that, I would expect that all Pixel devices will have Android 13 by the end of August and all other devices by the start of 2023.

How to download Android 13

Your best bet is to update Android with the OTA option. This is the safest and easiest method of upgrading. To check your phone for an update, go to Settings > System > System Update, and tap Check For Update (Figure D).

Figure D

System update menu on an Android device.
Figure D: Checking for an update on a Pixel 6 Pro running Android 12.

If you’d prefer to not wait, you can always sideload Android 13 with the help of the Android SDK and the adb and fastboot commands. You will need to download the proper image for your device and then gain access to recovery mode on your device.

Although it may seem tempting to sideload Android 13, I wouldn’t recommend it. I have had a couple of instances where this method failed, and I wound up with a bricked device. Ergo, your best bet is to wait for the OTA upgrade. Trust me when I say it’s worth the wait.

And even if you forget to constantly check for an available update, the Android system will eventually alert you that the update has been downloaded in the background, so all you’ll have to do is reboot your device to apply it.

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