It's that time of the year. Android 11 is here — or, at least, the first early developer previews are. We're continually combing through these new versions looking for changes, willing canaries in the Android coal mines so that you, our readers, can see what's new without having to actually risk installing it on your own phone (if you don't want to). Now that we've had some time to look around, here's everything new we've spotted.
Google posted a full timeline of its preview releases, which will include three Developer Previews and three Betas at a cadence of around one a month until the final version lands sometime in Q3:
Before we dive in, we'd like to thank you, our tipsters and readers. Our job would be so much harder if it weren't for you guys, and AP ❤️s you.
The Android 11 feature list
Entirely new Android 11 features
- Power menu stuff
- Digital driver's licenses are coming to a power menu wallet: Support for "secure storage and retrieval of verifiable identification documents," including driver's licenses, is coming in a later release.
- Long-press power menu smart home controls might be coming: Nothing user-facing has changed, but a series of hidden tweaks implies we might get smart home device controls built into the power menu.
- New refresh rate overlay developer option looks like Fraps: On Android 11, you can trigger an overlay that shows your current refresh rate — useful for things like debugging issues with the new super-smooth high refresh rate displays. Also, it looks kind of like Fraps.
- Built-in screen recording: It's still a bit buggy, but the built-in screen recording first revealed (then disabled) back with Android 10 is back as of the first Android 11 release.
- Context-aware Bluetooth airplane mode: If you're playing music over Bluetooth headphones and you toggle airplane mode, then — gasp — Bluetooth won't turn off, and your headphones will continue to get tunes. That's one of the biggest travel frustrations eliminated. (Technically, this is a modification to an existing feature, but it's a big enough deal that I do not care.)
Pause gesture for Pixel 4's Motion Sense: A new "dip" gesture that lets you play/pause media was added in Android 11 for the Pixel 4, though the app that delivers the update may end up being distributed outside of the Android 11 previews. Motion Sense gestures as a whole also seem way better in Android 11.
- This trickled down to Android 10 as part of the March update/2nd Pixel Feature drop, so it's not an Android 11 exclusive feature.
- Bubble notifications are back: Teased back in Android 10, chat head-style "bubble" notifications are in Android 11, giving you big icon-like non-transparent obstructions to deliver immediate notice of messages and other content.
- "Battery share" hints at reverse charging for Pixel 5: A hidden detail in the first Android 11 release shows a new "battery share" feature for reverse charging other devices using your phone — probably wirelessly, like with Samsung's Wireless Powershare. If they're adding it now, there's a decent chance we'll see it debut with a future Pixel.
- Shows you your headphones' Bluetooth codec support: Rather than trusting spec sheets or sniffing around with Wireshark, Android 11 simply shows you which audio codecs your headphones support (via a developer options codec selection menu).
- Notification History: Google's working on a new way to view past notifications as part of the overall notification revamp in Android 11.
- Rear double-tap gesture for Pixel phones: Android 11 has a hidden feature that creates a new double-tap gesture, customizable for a handful of features, giving Pixels (and perhaps other Android phones) a brand new gesture/trigger for actions.
- "Conversations" get their own notification group: A new "Conversations" section for notifications from messaging apps now gets priority over other notification types.
- They also get a different long-press menu compared to other types of notifications, including the option to move a given notification into a bubble (ew).
- Do Not Disturb menu gets reorganized: It's a new Android version, and Google wouldn't be Google if they didn't find a way to tweak something about Do Not Disturb again. This time it's a reorganization around three types of notifications: from People, Apps, and Alarms and other sources.
- Hidden notification log gets a new look: It's a little less useful (right now), but Google rolled out a redesigned notification log with Android 11.
- Hidden test splits notifications from Quick Settings: Like the olden days of Android 4.X, Google is apparently testing splitting notifications off from Quick Settings, though the change isn't user-facing yet, and may not go anywhere.
- Jiggly Pixel Launcher animations: Android 11 gives you that jello feel scrolling through your homescreen.
- Hidden option to change Quick Settings icon colors: With an ADB command, you can enable/disable the feature, and additional commands can assign specific colors. More on that here.
Privacy and security changes
- Temporary/one-time app permissions: Android 11 adds the option to grant some permissions "Only this time," so you can continue to decide on a case-by-case basis.
- Scoped Storage is back: Introduced in Android Q, we got a one-year reprieve before Scoped Storage goes into effect, and it will debut with Android 11. It may be slower, and it will interfere with some legacy operations, but Google champions the effect it will have on user privacy, better sandboxing app storage. Some apps may also be able to secure exemptions, like file managers and backup apps.
- Repeatedly denying permission requests will block them: If an application requests a permission twice, and it's denied by the user both times, the app will be blocked from requesting the permission again.
- Extra tap to grant overlay permissions: Overlay-based attacks are a serious concern for the Android platform. Starting in Android 11, apps that need you to grant it can't simply take you to the toggle, they can only dump you to the level before it, where you have to then navigate to the option and turn it on yourself. It's just one extra tap, but it might make a difference for those blindly granting permissions to malware.
- No more background location access: Although apps can request an exemption, Google is pressuring developers to stop letting apps request continuous location access, so they can't gather that information in the background, only while they're running and you are aware of them. All new apps must meet this requirement by August, and in November, any that don't meet the requirement will be booted from the Play Store.
Modifications to existing features
Dark theme picks up sunset and custom time triggers: When Google finally gave Android a dark theme last year, it was missing a much-needed option for an automatic trigger — you know, so your phone doesn't blind you at night, but you can still have that white-on-black theme for easier daytime visibility. Well, it's a thing now.
- Most of this (barring one trigger) trickled down to Android 10 as part of the March update/2nd Pixel Feature drop. It might not make its way to other phones until Android 11, but technically Android 10 got it as well.
- Apps using the camera can mute notifications: To prevent a rogue vibration or notification sound from ruining a long-planned shot or clip, camera-using apps can prevent your phone from firing off a notification.
- Project Mainline upgrade: The system Google introduced last year with Android 10, which enabled system components to be updated via the Play Store, is expanding to support updating more different system modules, bringing the count to 20. The non-technical summary is that even if you don't get Android updates from your phone's manufacturer, your phone can stay secure and get some new features separately.
- Pinning apps in the share sheet/menu is back: Introduced with Nougat and killed with Android 10, now that the share sheet has been redesigned, you can pin apps for frequent use again.
- Scrolling/extended screenshots: Although Google first labeled the idea "infeasible," the company later agreed to add the feature, and the first hidden signs of it have appeared in Android 11 — though it doesn't work yet.
Option to increase touch sensitivity for Pixel 4: This may end up being exclusive to the Pixel 4 (so far, it is), and it may not work right now, but Android 11 brought us a toggle to increase the sensitivity of the touch screen for use with things like screen protectors. Other phones by other manufacturers have had similar settings for some time.
- This also tricked down to Pixel 4s on Android 10 as part of the March update/2nd Pixel Feature Drop.
- Hidden test integrating media controls into Quick Settings: A manually enabled test in Android 11 shows that Google might be experimenting with moving media controls into the Quick Settings menu. It looks... pretty weird right now.
- Back gesture sensitivity setting: It might not actually do anything yet, but a hidden activity showing sensitivity options for the "fully gestural navigation" back gesture was spotted in Android 11, similar to the one that leaked in Android 10, and which was later removed.
- Car crash detection comes to older Pixels via Android 11 app: Thanks to the version of the Personal Safety app included in Android 11, you can sideload car crash detection functionality onto older Pixels. We even tested it as working in a "simulated" crash, though it might still be geographically restricted, or have other limits in functionality.
Opening links in another app is just one tap now, not two: Settings for "open links with" still don't stick if an app updates, but opening a given link/intent in an app is now just one tap, instead of two taps (i.e, tapping the app's name then tapping "just once").
- As with many other features on this list, Android 10 received this feature as well as part of the March update/2nd Pixel Feature Drop, though many phones may not get it until Android 11.
- New volume key magnification shortcut.
- DNS server issues get labeled as such: Rather than simply give you an unhelpful "no internet" notification, Android 11 lets you know if your custom DNS server might be the culprit behind connectivity issues.
- Tons of Pixel Launcher tweaks spotted
- Pixel Launcher teardown shows coming "hotseat" tweaks: A teardown of the Android 11 Pixel Launcher shows we might get suggested apps in the "hotseat," the area above the Google search widget on the Pixel homescreen — perhaps like the suggested apps already present at the top of the app list in the Pixel Launcher.
- Teardown/tweaked app reveals piles of potential changes: Google may be planning or at least testing a ton of other Pixel Launcher changes, including actions replacing the app suggestion row in the overview/multitasking menu, hiding specific app suggestions, and automatic folder naming.
Under the hood/developer/API changes
- Developers will get a bit more time to fix things for Android 11: Google is giving us an extra "platform stability milestone" with final SDK/NDK APIs changes, so developers rushing to build for Android 11 have until June before things are finalized. Apps on the Play Store also don't have to be updated to support the changes until the end of 2021.
- Better support for "waterfall" curved-edge displays: A new API augmenting the existing display cutout API will help developers better build apps for phones with curved screens, letting them exclude certain elements from hitting those curved, prone-to-accidental-touch sides when required.
- More restricted and undocumented APIs getting the boot: Developers using non-public APIs for stuff will need to make sure their apps keep working with new restrictions in Android 11.
- "Overscan" ADB command doesn't work in Android 11: We aren't sure if it's an intentional change or not (Google hasn't answered our inquiry), but Android 11 has killed the ADB overscan command, used by many third-party apps that modify the navigation bar.
- Support for "soft" reboots: It doesn't save that much time right now, but a slightly faster way to restart userspace software while keeping lower-level systems running has been added in Android 11.
- Generic System Image/DSU installer: It doesn't seem to work right now, but a built-in installer for GSIs is present in Android 11.
- Built-in app compatibility tester: Android 11 has tools to better help developers test platform changes, individually enabling and disabling them to see how they might interact with apps.
Some of the features first spotted in Android 11 have appeared in Android 10 as part of the March 2020 update/2nd Pixel Feature Drop. Though they first arrived in Android 11, they're no longer exclusive to it. We've left them in the lists above, but struck them out and added an explanation in each case. For non-Pixels, some of these trickle-down features may not surface on other devices until they receive Android 11 anyway.