Android 12 officially launches: Here's what you need to know

Google quietly announced that Android 12 is now available for select phones after announcing the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

android-logo.png

(Image: Google)

Google

ZDNet Recommends

The best Android phones

Here are the top Android phones you can buy.

Read More

Google just finished its Fall Pixel Launch event where the company meticulously walked viewers through its new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, along with its first in-house processor, Google Tensor. 

Both phones run Android 12 out of the box, so I was hoping we'd hear something during the streamed event about the launch of the next mobile operating system from Google. Instead of making a formal announcement during the event, Google quietly published a blog post recapping some of the features available in Android 12 and announcing that it's now officially available for Google Pixel devices. To be clear, that means you'll need a Pixel 3 or newer. 

Android 12 is full of new features, and arguably, the biggest redesign of the Android interface as a whole that we've ever seen. There are new privacy features in Android 12, including a dashboard that gives you a timeline of which apps are accessing your private information, a new scrollable screenshot tool and countless other tweaks and improvements. 

If you have a compatible Pixel phone, you can download and install Android 12 right now.

What's the latest version of Android called?

  • Google has left its public dessert naming scheme behind
  • Numbers are the future: Android 12 is the name

With the release of Android 10 in 2019, Google announced it was no longer going to use dessert names for the yearly release of an Android update. Last year, Google released Android 11. And this year, it's Android 12. 

That said, Google still uses sweets as its internal code names for upcoming releases, and thanks to XDA Developers, which has shared a ton of information about the OS update, we have a good idea that internally it's being called "Snow Cone."

When will Android 12 release?

android-12-desktop-timeline-en-landpg.png
  • Google released the first developer beta on Feb. 18
  • The official public release happened on Oct. 19 for Pixel phones

The development process for each new version of Android is lengthy, with a developer beta usually being released early in the year. In 2020, Google released the first developer beta of Android 11 on Feb. 19. Nearly a year to the day later, Google announced Android 12 on Feb. 18. 

During the beta anyone with a compatible Android phone like a Google Pixel could sign up and help Google test the next version of Android. 

An official release usually happens toward the end of the summer after developers have had time to get their apps ready for new APIs, and Google has time to finalize the build and get rid of any lingering bugs. Last year, Android 11 was released on Sept. 8. 

Android 12, however, was held until Oct. 19 -- the same day Google announced the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

What new features are in Android 12?

3-android-12-privacy-2021-05-17-15-52-33.gif
  • New privacy controls 
  • Improved support for other Google devices  
  • New design changes and more

Google took a step back and completely redesigned a lot of how Android looks and works. For example, a new feature called Material You will take the core colors of your phone's wallpaper, and then it will customize how your system looks — including the notification shade, quick settings panels, the new-look widgets, and more. It'll launch as an exclusive feature for Google's own Pixel phones, but you have to imagine it'll eventually make its way to all Android devices. 

The notification shade and quick settings panel have a new look, regardless of the color matching feature. The buttons for settings are bigger, easier to read and look like they're easier to navigate. Notifications also have a new look to them, with grouping and interaction taking a playful feel. 

Getting to Google Assistant no longer requires swiping up from the corner of your phone's screen; instead, you'll now long-press the power button to trigger the personal assistant. 

As far as privacy is concerned, Google is getting serious about helping Android users keep their personal information to themselves. There's a new location-sharing option that will allow you to only provide an app with your general location info, instead of your exact location. For example, if you're using the Walmart app to look for something, it'll request your location. However, does Walmart really need to know where your home or work is? Probably not. Instead, you can tell Android 12 to give it your general location, such as the south side of your city. 

There are also new colored dots that will show up at the top of your phone letting you know when an app is using your camera or microphone (another feature that iPhone users currently have). When you see one of these indicators, you can swipe down from the top of the screen to view your quick settings panel and in turn disable access to either functionality for that specific app. 

For even more control, a new privacy dashboard will show you every category of personal data that's being accessed and show you the apps and the exact times that it was accessed. With that information, you can then restrict access to apps that you feel are being too aggressive. 

Google also added the ability for Android users to take scrollable screenshots. It's a handy tool for those times when you want to take a screenshot of a very long web page, or maybe a conversation in a chat app. Now you just have to tap a couple of buttons. Another new feature changes how auto-rotation works. Google now uses the front-facing camera on an Android phone and adjusts the rotation of the screen based on your face. In other words, you will soon be able to lay down in bed and use the phone without it rotating to landscape mode. 

When will non-Pixel phones get Android 12?

  • If you don't have a Pixel, you could be waiting awhile

Great question. And one we don't have an answer for right now. New Android releases always start with Pixel devices, and then eventually make it to non-Google devices. But the amount of time it takes for that to happen depends on the company. In the past companies like Motorola or OnePlus have occasionally released a major update a day or two later. 

However, companies like Samsung have historically taken months -- in some cases several months -- before a major OS update is released. OneUI 4, Samsung's next big update that includes Android 12, is currently in beta for the Galaxy S21, meaning it could be released before the end of the year for that specific device. 

What are you hoping to see in Android 12? More iOS-like features, or something different? Let us know in the comments below.