Last update: May 2021

4 mins to read - 2021/03/01

Android 12 Developer Preview Shows Widgets, Changes in UI and Privacy

Google has recently released their Android 12 developer preview. Beta releases are scheduled for May through August, with the date of the final release yet to be announced. As with Apple’s iOS 14 release from last year, the Android 12 has a lot of innovative features in the pipeline, including app widgets, new media formats, and interface changes. While many of the updates are around UX, there are also a few interesting changes to the UI, including the introduction of some new user interfaces, as seen below. There are also some important data security changes that bear mentioning.

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android 12 developer preview screenshot
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New Widgets for the Android 12 Developer Preview

Perhaps at the top of everyone’s list for exciting new features from the developer preview is Android 12’s Conversation Widget. According to XDA, Android’s new Conversation Widget will let users preview missed calls, recent messages, and activity statuses from the Google Messages app. So far, it doesn’t allow you to view the actual content of the message without opening the app, nor can it be used for other messaging apps, such as Facebook or WhatsApp. The widget can be added to SystemUI, and based on the mockups they were able to access, they look to be a smooth, sleek way to group apps together on your device homescreen. The new Android OS will also allow for widget stacks, called the “expanded smart space” feature, such as those offered by iOS 14.

android 12 developer preview
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UI Updates Including New Clock Format

Android 12’s new interface will also involve a relocated brightness bar, which the new OS has moved to the top of the notification menu. There will also be some aesthetic changes to the notification menu, with users able to match its color with their wallpaper.

The clock on the lockscreen has taken a new format, with users able to stack the hour digits over the minute digits. The clock will take up much of the middle of the screen, but will relocate to the upper right-hand corner of the lockscreen to accommodate incoming activities from other apps. For example, when there is a notification to be read, or if a music app is being used.

android 12 developers preview clock
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Other aesthetic changes include an accessibility feature for reduced brightness of colors, and an update to Markup that lets you stamp screenshots with emojis and and text.

Emergency SOS Feature

Some more functional new features people are buzzing about include the Emergency SOS feature. This allows you to call 911, even when the phone is locked, by pressing the power button 5 times in a row. There is a 5-second window to cancel the call, if made by accident, by swiping. The emergency services number can be changed from the device, which requires going into settings and manually updating.

This feature does not integrate with Pixel’s Personal Safety App (yet), which allows for easy sharing of medical information and emergency contacts. However, developers have been praising it as an important safety feature, and a step in the right direction for situations where a device user may not be able to navigate through their device to call an emergency number.

Another handy feature that gives users a more streamlined route to communicate is the Nearby Share feature, from Android 10 and 11. With this feature, users can share Wi-Fi passwords with their friends by tapping devices together. Simply click the “Share” button in the network settings, then tap on the Nearby Share button. This will allow device users to share their SSID and passwords for a local Wi-Fi network with other Android users nearby.

Gesture-Based Navigation Upgrade

Although it doesn’t seem to be fully ready to launch yet, this feature lets you exit out of full-screen modes in apps with single swipe, as opposed to one swipe to bring up the navigation bar and another to exit. Android Police explored this new feature some, and found it allows users to navigate via gestures even if the navigation bar is hidden by an app in full screen or immersive mode. (Although some apps will have to be updated to take advantage of this feature.)

It looks like this step has been applauded those who want gesture navigation to be intuitive. Android Q’s proto-version of gesture nav was clunky and frustrating. And some complained that having to draw up the navigation bar before you could gesture back to the home screen was counter-productive. Step by step, Android is hammering out the kinks and building a fully responsive, next-gen gesture nav.

android 12 developers preview gesture navigation
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Data Privacy and Security Updates for Android 12 Developer Preview

In terms of data privacy, Android 12 looks like it will be reflecting Apple’s recent changes to IDFA by giving users more control over tracking identifiers. It has revised its best practices guidelines for app developers regarding tracking IDs, with added restrictions for non-resettable identifiers. Android moreover advises developers to avoid using hardware identifiers, and to use the DRM API and SafetyNet APIs for content and abuse protection.

Screenshots of the new OS also show a new privacy indicator, which is a light in the status bar which warns users when an app is accessing their camera or microphone. There will also likely be a more comprehensive upgrade to the privacy settings as a whole in Android 12, with users able to toggle the camera and microphone on/off easily. This is another hint that Android seems to be taking their cues from iOS with regard to data privacy.

Overall, there hasn’t been much change for this version of the OS when it comes to push notifications, aside from some design elements and how they interact with the clock on the lockscreen. When you tap on a notification, it will take you directly into the app, rather than to an intermediary service, which should speed up the entire process. Interestingly, Android 12 will also let users snooze unimportant notifications for a period of time. Users can also turn on adaptive notifications, which will rank different apps according to how you work with them so Android can rearrange your notifications. However, it must be noted that this was a feature of Android Q OS.

Still, change is in the air as the mobile industry and app developers begin to evolve in terms of how they approach data privacy and user consent.

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