It’s mid-February, which means Google needs to release the first developer preview of its upcoming operating system update. The company’s technical director, Dave Burke, said in a blog post that Android 12 is “investing in key areas for a polished experience and better performance.”
Most of the news today is related to developers, but we can get some clues as to what new features might be coming. For example, more media types such as AVIF are supported for higher quality images in smaller files. Gesture navigation is simplified and more consistent in immersive mode. This is true when, for example, you are playing a game, reading a book, or watching a video. While developers still have the option of only showing the translucent navigation bar (to prevent accidental swipes in full-screen mode), any app that doesn’t have this setting will, by default, recognize a swipe from the side or bottom as running back or home.
In this preview, we also learn that apps in Android 12 can provide what is known as “audio-coupled haptic feedback via the phone’s vibrator” from Google. This would allow developers to create experiences like simulating rough terrain in a racing game, while a video calling app could use custom ringtones to create vibration patterns that the user could use to identify the caller without hearing or seeing the device . Notifications are also becoming “more modern, user-friendly and functional”. Burke writes, “We’re also tweaking transitions and animations across the system to make them smoother.”
Burke also said in Android 12 that notifications will be “decorated with custom iconic content and expand the offerings to match all other notifications.” This wording isn’t very clear, but it sounds like Notifications at least add some new twist, if not a refreshing look. In addition, the company is working to make alerts faster and more responsive by blocking intermediary broadcast receivers or services it calls “trampolines”.
Google is also adding an Android Runtime Module (ART) to the latest operating system, which will allow the company to “push core runtime updates and libraries to Android 12 devices”. This is part of Project Mainline, which enables Google to push security and other critical updates for apps through the Play Store, so you don’t have to wait for critical fixes until a system upgrade.
Android is not just an operating system for phones, it also powers tablets, leaflets and televisions. While Google didn’t share much about features or updates for dual-screen or flexible devices, it did share that this first preview of Android 12 is also available for Android TVs. This allows developers to test their apps for the new Google TV interface that the company launched last year. This is important for a more consistent and coherent experience on this platform.
There are many more new features in the First Developer Preview of Android 12, including “Rich Content Paste” that allows users to paste content from clipboards, keyboards, or drag and drop sources. Google is also adding a number of new privacy and security controls as well as an HEVC transcoder so that apps that don’t support this video format can get it in AVC format instead.
This first preview version is only intended for developers, so Google restricts itself to manual downloads. If you’re a developer and want to try Android 12, you can install the preview today by flashing a device system image to a Pixel phone (Pixel 3 and above). If you don’t own a Pixel device, you can use the Android emulator in Android Studio.