It’s that time of year again–rumors about what’s coming to the next iteration of the Android platform abound. We’ve grown to expect these, what with leaks of images and code. Of course, so many have approached these rumors with much trepidation for two reasons:
- They are often nothing more than rumors.
- The Android update process has been in shambles for years.
However, there is hope. Thanks to Project Treble and Project Mainline, the Android upgrade process has come a long way. In fact, the Android 11 adoption rate was the fastest of any iteration of the platform. The speed at which the platform is released has become much-refined over the years. Why does that matter? Because the time between rumor to release is shortened, it means rumors could be more, rather than less, likely to become reality.
No matter how fast the adoption of the platform has become, the speed of rumors will always be faster. With that said (and given Android 12 will land sometime in 2021–probably August or September), let’s take a look at some of the more choice rumors bouncing about.
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Announcements from Google I/O 2021
On May 18, Google announced several updates for Android 12, including:
- Android 12 will be the most personal Google OS ever
- 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
- Google Assistant will quickly help you fix compromised passwords
Let’s kick this off with the rumored Google Pixel-specific features. This is apropos, as the Pixel devices will not only be the first to receive the updates, but Google will be releasing the Pixel 6 this year, most likely near the Android 12 release. Although this is a point of contention with a lot of Android users who don’t have Pixel devices, it’s worth looking at.
At this point, there isn’t much in the way of Pixel-specific rumors. However, there is at least one: That the devices will be receiving a feature that’ll allow users to double-tap the back of the device to perform certain actions (such as snooze alarms, take screenshots, answer calls, etc.), as well as being a shortcut for opening Google Assistant. This feature was first spotted in Android 11 (by the code name “Columbus”), but failed to make it to the public release.
That’s really it for the Pixel-specific rumors, so far.
General Android 12 rumors
Let’s now focus on what Android 12 might bring to all supported Android devices.
Third-party app stores
There’s one specific Android 12 rumor that’s flying about the internet, one that has my eyebrows nearly lifting from my forehead. That rumor (found in this Android Developers blog post) had this to say:
…some developers have given us feedback on how we can make the user experience for installing another app store on their device even better. In response to that feedback, we will be making changes in Android 12 (next year’s Android release) to make it even easier for people to use other app stores on their devices while being careful not to compromise the safety measures Android has in place. We are designing all this now and look forward to sharing more in the future!
In other words, the developers are working to make it such that users can install applications from non-Play Store locations with some semblance of assurance the security of their devices won’t be compromised. This goes against everything I’ve warned about the security of Android devices for years. How the developers can pull this off is beyond me, unless they plan on working with third parties to ensure the security of apps found on their stores.
I’m not certain I’d be willing to trust such a move, especially given we still live in an age where malicious applications can find their way into the Google Play Store.
A change in updates
Another rumor has to do with updates. Google is planning to make the Android Runtime a Mainline module for Android 12. This would allow Google to more easily and quickly deliver operating system updates via the Google Play Store–instead of OTA updates. This has two immediate benefits:
- Updates would come faster.
- Updates would be smaller (so they wouldn’t take as long).
If Google pulls this off, it would be a major improvement over the current Android upgrade process.
Our next rumor could have a very positive impact on the battery life of Android devices. This feature will hibernate apps that are running, but not currently being used. This would effectively mean the only app (that isn’t a running background service) draining your battery would be the one you are using. It is also rumored that this feature would also automatically clear the app cache on your device.
This one is really interesting. Called App Pairs, this feature would allow you to open two apps (that are commonly used together) simultaneously. If I had to guess, this feature might be a way to finally get Android split screen–that feature so few actually use–right. Honestly, I don’t have high hopes for this one. The only way I could see Google getting such a feature to where it’s actually viable would be to make it possible to open apps in a pseudo “widget mode,” which would open a smaller version of the app. This would borrow from the iOS Stackable Widgets feature, allowing full-functioning widgets to be added to a stack of related apps.
For this feature to work, the apps would have to be easily paired and fully functional.
New app coloring system
Android 12 might bring to the table a new app coloring system that would allow users to choose a main color and an accent color, which would then be applied to all apps and menus. This shouldn’t be too challenging to make work, but users who are looking to eke out as much battery life as possible might find that a brighter color palette could more quickly drain their battery. Hopefully the new app hibernation feature will render that concern moot.
New Wi-Fi sharing
A final rumor is all about sharing Wi-Fi passwords with other users. Android already has a pretty simple system (one that uses QR codes to share wireless network configurations), but that requires users to be next to you so they can scan the codes, instead of you having to either voice or write down the wireless password for them. According to the rumor mill, this feature would allow you to share Wi-Fi passwords, even if the user isn’t nearby. iOS already has such a feature that uses Bluetooth to share the necessary information. If Android is going the same route, I’d suggest you take care where you share this information, as Bluetooth packet transmission is really easy to sniff. You wouldn’t want some third-party scooping up your Wi-Fi password and using it against you.
Lock screen authentication
In the Developer Preview 2 release, Google has made it possible for developers to add an extra layer of security that would require user authentication, taken from the lock screen, for any action implemented by a notification. Previously, this only happened with a notification action that launched an activity or was a direct reply.
Picture in Picture (PiP) improvements
The latest developer release has shown significant improvement over PiP usage. With a single tap of a PiP window, the window controls will display. A double-tap of a PiP window will toggle between the current and maximum size of the PiP window.
Companion apps awake
Some companion apps for devices like smartwatches and fitness bands will now be able to keep running or wake up when a third-party device is nearby. This will make connections for those devices (as well as the data they keep) more reliable.
The latest developer preview makes it possible for developers to better work with devices that have rounded corners. With this in place, application UIs will no longer be truncated, due to their inability to work with rounded corners.
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.
Of course, these are only rumors. Considering the first beta of Android 12 has yet to be released, I wouldn’t count on any of these features making it to the final release. That doesn’t mean they won’t–it just means rumor control will have something to say in the end.
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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include announcements from Google I/O 2021.