Last year's Android 10 was a massive release. It had a system-wide dark theme, updated navigation gestures, dozens of privacy changes, and much more. However, stock Android still has a few missing features compared to the customized Android builds found on devices from third-party manufacturers, and there's even a few iOS features that would be nice to see.
The first preview builds of Android 11 will likely show up in the coming months, no doubt with even more features to make our smartphones and tablets more useful. Here are 11 changes we'd love to see added to Android 11, in no particular order.
Apple added native screen recording to iOS with version 11, originally released in 2017. Even though there have been third-party Android apps capable of recording the screen for years, they can't access your device's internal audio due to API limitations. It's overtime for Google to include a recorder in Android itself.
It seemed like a screen recorder was going to be included in Android 10, after an experimental flag for one showed up in early Android 10 betas. However, the feature never worked, and the ability to access system flags was removed for the final Android 10 release (though it can be activated using ADB commands on Pixel phones).
The screen recorder in OneUI 2.0
Several Android skins include support for screen recording, like Samsung OneUI and Xiaomi MIUI. Samsung's recorder is especially nice, as it supports drawing on top of applications and showing your front camera in the corner (with optional microphone audio).
Automatic dark theme
This is another feature that was partially implemented for Android 10, but never completed: an automatic switch for dark mode. Samsung OneUI already supports activating dark theme at sunset and switching back at sunrise, and there's even a third-party app that adds the functionality to any Android 10 device.
Automatic dark/light theme switching on OneUI
It's still wild to me that Google went through months of work on Android 10's dark theme, and didn't implement a simple toggle for switching themes automatically. It's as if someone built a car and left out the windshield wipers. Fingers crossed we get it in Android 11.
Android is generally regarded as a more versatile operating system than iOS, but Apple stepped up its game with the introduction of Siri Shortcuts in iOS 12. The feature gives you an automation platform that any application can plug into, like a local version of IFTTT or Google Assistant routines. It's even more powerful than those services, as Shortcuts support variables and multiple actions for a single trigger.
Siri Shortcuts (credit: Apple)
Tasker has made some automation possible on Android devices for years, and as great as that application is, a system-level equivalent with APIs that any application can plug into would be incredible. Bonus points if the shortcuts can be synced across devices.
Merged files application
Google has neglected Android's built-in file manager for years. The company built a completely new one for Android Go devices back in 2017, originally focused on peer-to-peer file sharing and clearing up storage. Since then, the app has received plenty of new features, and is now called 'Files by Google.' It would have made sense to make it the default files app in Android 10, but instead, Google gave the existing system file manager a minor visual overhaul.
Files app on Android 10
I'd love to see Files by Google and the Android file manager merge into a single application — or, at the very least, more Files by Google features should be integrated into the system app. Device manufacturers would likely still replace it with their own file apps, but at least I wouldn't have to have two file managers installed on my Pixel anymore.
Browser selector in all regions
After a $5 billion antitrust fine from the European Union, Google was forced to include a menu for selecting the default search engine and web browser on Android devices sold in Europe. I'm well aware Google would never do this without governments breathing down its neck, but I would love to see this become standard in all regions with Android 11.
European Union residents see this screen when setting up a new Android device.
Chrome no longer functions as the WebView rendering engine in Android 10 (it's still based on Chrome, but is a separate APK), so there wouldn't be any technical issues with removing Chrome from the default Google apps package — the OS could let you choose what browser to start with during the setup process.
Again, I know this will never happen as long as governments are content with Google's near-monopoly over the web, but this is a wishlist after all.
Android 10 blocks applications from accessing your clipboard data in the background. While that's a nice improvement from a security and privacy perspective, it's not so great if you liked to use clipboard manager apps.
Google is no stranger to removing services and features without a proper replacement (looking at you, Inbox), but for Android 11, we'd love to see a full-featured clipboard manager show up as part of the core OS. There's already a clipboard manager in Gboard, since keyboards can access the clipboard any time they are opened, but it can't do much.
The clipboard manager in Gboard
Regardless if this happens or not, Google should still add a new role for clipboard managers, so someone can select a single third-party app to have access to the clipboard (just like you can already do with browsers).
Improved large screen support
Google leaned hard into the tablet market with Android 3.0 Honeycomb, but after a mixed reception to the Motorola XOOM and other flagship-level tablets, every subsequent OS update removed Android's tablet-specific components. Android 4.2 Jelly Bean drove the final nail into the coffin by removing the taskbar-like dock, giving tablets the same general interface as phones.
Most of Android's built-in applications have terrible support for large screens, which not only hurts tablets, but also Chromebooks. I'd love to see Android 11 include a renewed focus on large screens, with more of Google's applications supporting multiple columns and wide aspect ratios. The Play Store has a (slightly) better tablet UI now than it did a year ago, so I know someone at Google cares about this.
Play Store on a Chromebook, from late 2018
Play Store on a tablet today
The lithium-ion batteries in our phones have a limited lifespan, and repeatedly charging all the way to 100% and leaving batteries plugged in can wear out the battery slightly faster than charging to ~80%.
Apple introduced a new optimized charging feature in iOS 13 that only charges the phone to around 80%, then leaves it there until the phone predicts you're likely to take it off the charger. Here's how Apple describes it:
With iOS 13 and later, Optimized Battery Charging is designed to reduce the wear on your battery and improve its lifespan by reducing the time your iPhone spends fully charged. When the feature is enabled, your iPhone will delay charging past 80% in certain situations.
Your iPhone uses on-device machine learning to learn your daily charging routine so that Optimized Battery Charging activates only when your iPhone predicts it will be connected to a charger for an extended period of time. The algorithm aims to ensure that your iPhone is still fully charged when unplugged.
A few Android manufacturers have added a similar feature to their phones, including OnePlus, but Google should bring it to all devices with Android 11.
Apple's iOS has had a feature called 'AirDrop' for years, which allows people to send photos, websites, contacts, and other data to anyone else in close physical proximity — without exchanging contact information first. Android Beam offered similar functionality from Ice Cream Sandwich onwards, but it copied data over an extremely slow Bluetooth connection, required physical contact between devices, and was actually removed in Android 10.
Nearby Sharing (Source: 9to5Google)
During Android 10's beta period, it was discovered that Google was developing an AirDrop-like feature called 'Fast Share,' which would locate nearby Android phones via Bluetooth and transfer files over a direct Wi-Fi connection. The feature is still under development as part of Google Play Services, with a new 'Nearby Sharing' name, and it would be great if Android 11 included it.
This is another feature that custom flavors of Android have had for years, including OxygenOS, Samsung OneUI, and even HTC's ROM, but still eludes stock Android. With scrolling screenshots, you can capture more vertical content without having to take multiple screenshots.
Google is currently planning to bring scrolling screenshots to Android 11, so let's hope it happens for real this time.
No drastic UI changes
This last request comes from AP editor Rita: "stop changing shit that doesn't need to be changed just to pretend it's new." And I wholeheartedly agree.
Ah, I forgot the one that should be on top of everything. STOP CHANGING SHIT THAT DOESN'T NEED TO BE CHANGED JUST TO PRETEND IT'S NEW. FFS, every version of Android completely overhauls notification management and DND in some unexplainable way, and I have to relearn that.
— Dr. Rita El Khoury (@khouryrt) January 19, 2020
As great as it is that Google wants to improve parts of the core operating system every year, it can also get tiring. Every time I use a device with a different Android version, I have to re-learn where certain settings are, how notifications work, and so on. I still sometimes look for an app called "People" when I'm trying to find my contacts, because Google renamed the contacts app to "People" back in 2011 and then switched it back at some later point.
Just once, I would like to update one of my devices without the Settings app being redesigned. Please. I have no idea where to find the Google Assistant options anymore, and at this point, I'm too afraid to ask.