Google updates its Android operating system each year, introducing new features and designs that keep the software in fine fettle. So, what will appear in Android 12 when it hopefully arrives later this year? We take a look at the latest news and rumours.
The latest version of Android is often previewed at Google’s I/O event in May, with public beta versions releasing shortly afterwards and the final, full release of the software coming in either August or September.
In the past few years, Android has adopted this pattern in the following way;
Android 9 Pie
First public beta: 8 May 2018
Full version release: 6 August 2018
First public beta: 7 May 2019
Full version release: 3 September 2019
First public beta: 10 June 2020
Full version release: 8 September 2020
With this in mind, it’s reasonable to expect Android 12 to make its first public outing in May 2021 and be generally available in September.
Which phones will get Android 12?
Now, this can get complicated. Android still suffers from horrendous fragmentation that means some phones get the new software straight away, others follow-on weeks or months later, while a fair chunk won’t get it at all.
If you want to guarantee moving to the next version of Android then you’ll want to buy one of Google’s Pixel devices, such as the Pixel 5, Pixel 4a or Pixel 4a 5G, all of which get preferential treatment due to the fact that Google knows the exact make-up of each phone’s hardware configuration and software.
Any phones on the Android One platform, such as many Motorola and Nokia handsets, also get the newer versions quickly, although only for two years after they were first released.
You can read our guide to the best brands for Android updates to give yourself a clearer indication of whether your particular device will make the leap. Of course, you can also get in touch with the manufacturer’s customer support, as they may be able to help.
What features will Google add to Android 12?
One of the main areas of excitement for any new version of Android is of course which new features Google will introduce.
As Android 11 only launched in September 2020, there’s still a while to go before we even see the developer preview that usually arrives in March and gives us a few clues of what to expect. We have seen a few rumours though, and here is what has been suggested so far.
Better compatibility with third-party stores
There are a range of app stores available besides the Google Play Store. For example there is Samsung’s Galaxy Store and Huawei’s App Gallery, plus other variants that often come pre-installed on some handsets.
For Android 12, Google has stated that it will open up how these are available to users, with a spokesperson telling 9to5Google ‘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’.
For a while it looked like this simple tool would appear in Android 11, as companies like OnePlus, Huawei and Samsung already have the feature in their versions of the operating system.
But it didn’t quite make the cut in time, so now we’re confident that the next version of the OS is when you’ll see the ability to capture images that encompass the entire page of a site or app, not just what you can see on the display.
In an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, conducted by Google’s Android engineers, they confirmed as such by saying, ‘Rather than cranking out a quick hack that works for one or two hand-picked apps on a particular device, our goal on the platform team is to build this in a way that _any_ app can plug into, whether they’re using a bog-standard RecyclerView or have implemented their own OpenGL-accelerated scrolling engine. We investigated this throughout the R [Android 11] timeline, involving folks from the window manager and System UI teams; you’ll be able to see this scrolling capture framework start to take shape in the AOSP source.’
A single, native media-player
Android is a system with many options, that’s what we like about it, but it also means there can be a confusing amount of approaches and apps when it comes to things like media playback. On the Reddit AMA the Google engineers hinted at a single, unified player that could appear soon.
‘We recognize the confusion resulting from having multiple player options with different APIs and capabilities. We have begun efforts to converge them into a single solution based on ExoPlayer. The converged player will be full featured and easy to use – and we’ll share more info with the developer community as this progresses!’
Native support for WireGuard VPN
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are becoming more and more the norm in these digitally surveilled times in which we live. So, it’s good news that the new, fast encryption protocol WireGuard looks like it will have native support in the new version of Android.
Keen-eyed devs and fans often find potential new Android features within the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which often hides code for features being developed by Google engineers – though doesn’t confirm that they’ll necessarily end up officially included in the next OS version.
That’s the case for Nearby Wi-Fi Sharing, spotted in a submission to AOSP from Google engineer Abel Tesfaye. It’s essentially a way to simplify the process of adding new devices to your Wi-Fi network through sharing the network login details. You’ve been able to do this since Android 10 by sharing a QR code, but Tesfaye’s submission would automate this process a little more and send the password over Android’s Nearby Share feature.
Restricted Networking Mode
This is another feature dug up from AOSP. It appears to be a setting that, when enabled, restricts networking only to apps with a specific high-level permission – which will in effect limit network access only to default system apps, and none that the user has installed.
We’re hoping this will be joined by a customisable permission list that allows you to specify which apps have permission to use the network, but even if not this could be a useful new networking safe mode.
Back double-tap gesture
9to5Google claims to have seen information suggesting the return of the double-tap gesture, available within beta releases of Android 11, last year. When enabled, users can double-tap with a finger on the back of their device to activate the Google Assistant, take a screenshot, play or pause media, open the notification shade or open the recent apps view.
The feature – codenamed “Columbus” (after the Zombieland character) – was expected to feature in the public build of Android 11 but was pulled prior to release, so word of its resurgence in the Android 12 beta suggests that it might stick around this time.
In its Android 11 beta form, it’s thought that Columbus was too sensitive and that the Android 12 iteration will require far firmer and more deliberate taps to function. Whether the gesture is guaranteed to see the light of day and whether it’s intended to be a Google Pixel-exclusive feature all remains to be seen.
No doubt there will be plenty of other features that appear when Android 12 finally arrives.
Until then, be sure to check out our in-depth look at Android 11 so you get the most out of the current version of Google’s software, plus there’s our guide to the best Android phones if you want to ensure that Android 12 is in your hands very soon.