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Android 13 preview: New security features and developer tools available today

Google's update includes new privacy controls and themed icons.
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Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer on

It feels like Google just released Android 12. But the search giant today is releasing the first developer preview of Android 13, the next major operating system update for Android phones and tablets.

Dave Burke, vice president of engineering for Android at Google, outlines a long list of changes included in Android 13 Developer Preview 1 on the Android Developer blog

Privacy and security features coming to Android 13

The core improvements involve security and privacy, according to Burke. 

More specifically, Android 13 introduces a new photo picker that gives users the option to limit which specific photos an app can see. Apple introduced a similar feature with iOS 14 in 2020. 

This is how the new photo picker will work in Android 13. 

Animated image: Google

Currently, Android owners can either grant full permission to their photo library, or restrict all access. The new photo picker tool will allow them to select photos and videos, one by one if they choose, and only grant an app access to their selection. Google will bring the new photo picker functionality to more Android devices via a Google Play system update, allowing any device running Android 11 or higher to use the new API. 

Another privacy-focused feature will remove the requirement that apps request access to a user's location when attempting to connect to a nearby Wi-Fi network. For example, when setting up a smart home device, you often have to connect to the device's ad-hoc Wi-Fi network to complete the setup process. Before you can connect to it, though, the device's companion app has to request access to your location. In Android 13, that requirement is removed and apps will be able to look for and connect to nearby Wi-Fi networks without ever requesting location permissions. 

We're sure to see more privacy, security, and user improvements as Google releases future updates, including the first public beta of Android 13 slated for release in April (according to the timeline shown below). 

Developer tools included in Android 13

The first few early previews of any upcoming Android release give developers time to learn about the new tools and API changes coming to the operating system. With Android 13, there's no shortage of developer tools and improvements. 

For instance, there's a new Quick Settings Placement API that allows an app to prompt a user to add a quick settings tile directly in the app. Currently, users need to go to the quick settings panel and manually add the tile. 

Third party themed app icons are also coming to Android 13. In Android 12, Google introduced the Material You design that dynamically changes the color of Google app icons and other elements of the interface. Well, in Android 13, any app will have the option to have its app icon change color based on the phone's wallpaper. 

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An example of how adaptive app icons will look and work in Android 13. 

Images: Google

Per-app language preferences, faster hyphenation, programmable shaders and OpenJDK11 updates are also included in Android 13 and available for developers to begin testing right now. 

Google will continue improve the new features with updates through the Google Play system. The company has added Bluetooth and Ultra wideband modules to the service, which should help expand feature availability to older Android phones without requiring the device to be on the latest version of Android OS. 

You can install Android 13 today, but you probably shouldn't

As Google has done with previous developer preview and beta programs, the first preview of Android 13 is only available for the company's own Pixel phones. That includes the Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, Pixel 5a 5G, Pixel 5, Pixel 4a (5G), Pixel 4a, Pixel 4 XL, and the Pixel 4. 

If you have a compatible Pixel phone, you'll need to flash the Android 13 system image -- factory resetting and wiping all data from your phone in the process. 

On top of erasing all of your data (back up if you decide to install the preview), there are sure to be plenty of bugs in the developer preview. I strongly recommend waiting until the first public beta at least before taking the plunge. 

Instructions for installing the beta can be found here, but, again, it's a good idea to wait for more stable builds.

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