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Android 12 beta updates, features and what to expect from the new OS – Tom's Guide

A new yeah means it’s time to start looking forward to the next version of Android. Google’s popular mobile OS gets annual updates, which is always exciting for fans of Android phones. And this year, Android should make it to an even dozen, with the release of Android 12.

So far, we know very little about Android 12, but that’s likely to change very soon. Last year for Android 11, Google released the first Developer Preview in February, and it seems likely that the company will follow suit this year. 

Expect a public beta to follow the Developer Preview, as everything builds up to an Android 12 release later in the year. While we’re certain to hear more about the new version of Android when the first preview release lands, here’s what we know so far about Android 12. 

Android 12: Latest news and rumors (Updated Jan. 27)

Android 12: Release date and betas

Google used to tie the release of the new version of Android with the launch of the latest Nexus or Pixel phone, though the company has gotten away from that pattern in recent years. The last two versions of Android came out in early September — Android 10 on September 3, 2019 and Android 11 on September 8, 2020. (The latest Pixels didn’t arrive until a month later in both cases.) Despite the pandemic interfering with Android 11’s development cycle, Google still hit that September mark.

android 12: Google i/o

Google I/O is usually where we find out a lot about the latest version of Android — if Google holds the event this year. (Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

That said, it’s very likely that Android 12 will also arrive in September this year, though there’s no word on that, official or otherwise. Google will likely unveil a tentative timeline when its developer preview comes out, likely in February. And we’re expecting to hear a lot more about Google’s Android 12 plans at its Google I/O developer conference, which typically takes place in May (COVID-19 concerns canceled that event last year.)

Google also likes to sprinkle Android Developer Previews throughout the year. In 2020, Android 11’s first Developer Preview came out in mid-February and received updates on an almost monthly basis. We hope that Google will do the same for Android 12, meaning we could get the first preview in the coming weeks.

Android 12: Features

With no developer preview to go off of and only a handful of leaks, we don’t know a whole lot about Android 12. But we can make some reasonable assumptions about what Android 12 could include.

Double tap gesture: First appearing in the Android 11 beta builds, the double tap feature codenamed Columbus allowed Pixel owners to double tap on the back of the phone to summon Google Assistant. We believe that this feature can be toggled to do other actions instead, like open the notification shade, take a screenshot, pause/resume media playback, and open Recents. 

Many users found the feature too sensitive in the Android 11 betas, and Google removed it from the final release. According to reports, Android 12 will reportedly allow you to adjust the sensitivity to only accept firm taps. You can also turn it off if you want.

App Pairs: App Pairs will allow you to launch two apps simultaneously. While this isn’t a new feature for Android phones, it’s lacked official, seamless integration in the operating system’s codebase. It appears that Google will rectify that in Android 12, allowing users to launch two apps together. App pairs will be especially beneficial to foldable phones, which offer more screen real estate.

Android 12: What devices will it support?

Having an exhaustive list of every phone that will receive Android 12 is a nearly impossible task, so we’ll keep it narrowed down to Google’s own Pixels. You can expect 2021 flagship phones like the Galaxy S21 and OnePlus 9 to receive Android 12, too — hopefully by year’s end.

Android 12

The Pixel 5 will certainly be at the head of the line to get the Android 12 update later this year. (Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Unfortunately, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will not receive Android 12; Android 11 was their last update. That means the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are next on the chopping block, making Android 12 potentially their last hurrah. Of all Pixels currently available, here are the ones we think will get Android 12 when it comes out:

  • Pixel 3
  • Pixel 3 XL
  • Pixel 3a
  • Pixel 3a XL
  • Pixel 4
  • Pixel 4 XL
  • Pixel 4a
  • Pixel 4a 5G
  • Pixel 5

Obviously, the upcoming Pixel 6 will likely ship with Android 12 pre-installed. If we get a Pixel 5a or Pixel 5 Pro this year, you can add that to the list of Pixels getting Android 12, too.

In recent years, Google has made the next version of Android available as a beta to some third-party phones. But that’s generally once the public beta comes out — the Developer Preview is usually an exclusive for Pixel phones.

Android 12: Should you install the Developer Preview?

When it becomes available, the Android 12 Developer Preview will be all the rage in Android land. While it is exciting, and good for developers to install ASAP to make their apps ready for the final release, we cannot recommend you install the Developer Previews on your main device. If you have a spare Pixel 3 or above laying around, then go right ahead.

Developer Previews often break compatibility with some apps, or make the phone unusable as a phone until Google issues an update. It’s best to temper your excitement, at least at first, and wait for either the release candidate or the final release later this year. Beta software can be a lot of fun, but it’s not intended for use as a daily driver.

Android 12: What we want to see

We don’t expect Android 12 to be full of user-facing features like some past releases. Android is in a pretty good spot right now, so Google is likely to focus on underlying tweaks to improve things like system performance and battery life. However, there are some things we’d like to see.

Scrolling screenshots: A feature that is surprisingly still missing from stock Android, scrolling screenshots allow you to take a screenshot of more than just what’s currently shown on your screen. You could use this for sharing larger portions of an article, for example. We’ve seen phone manufacturers implement their own takes, with OnePlus being the best so far. It wouldn’t be hard for Google to add this, and we just hope Android 12 finally gets it.

Improved media controls: Android 11 moved media controls from the notification shade to the Quick Settings bar, making for a cleaner interface altogether. We are big fans of this change, but it’s not perfect. Volume and Cast controls are noticeably absent, so we’d like to see Google tweak things a bit in Android 12 to let us adjust playback volume or cast to relevant hardware.

Android 11 review

Improved media controls in Android 11 (Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Gaming mode: As more and more people play games on their phone — be it from the Play Store, Stadia, Xbox Game Pass, or what have you — we’d like to see Google officially embrace it and add a dedicated gaming mode to Android 12. You can get this on a lot of other devices like OnePlus phones, but Pixels and Android One devices lack it. Basically, it’s a setting that tweaks incoming notifications to make them less intrusive, or only allow certain ones to come through. It’s great when you’re in the middle of a match, boss fight, or intense puzzle, seeing as a notification popup can distract you from the game.

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