We're anxiously awaiting Google's first Android 12 preview release, which we expect may land in the next month or so. But even though we haven't seen it yet, plenty of details regarding the new release are public, between leaks and Google's own public plans. Right now, there are five big features we're looking forward to — assuming Google doesn't push any of them back (again).
Early leaks indicate that Android 12 will finally debut a feature that's been in development for years. Privacy indicators, much like those that debuted in iOS 14, are coming to Android. A set of colored icons and dots will indicate when and if apps are using your microphone or camera, so you can be aware of when the software on your phone might be violating your privacy.
It's a good step by itself, and furthermore, Google's version looks set to be better than Apples, making it easy to see which apps are accessing them both as it happens and after the fact without having to dig through piles of settings menus.
It remains to be seen how Google will treat system-level access compared to third-party apps — you can have the Google Assistant set to always listen for the hotword, for example — but it's a step in the right direction for user privacy, and one we've been anticipating since Google started working on it two years ago in Android 10.
We've also known for a while that Android 12 is set to expand theming options. Although Android has some system-level support for theming — which Pixel owners should recognize since Android 10 — Android 12 is set to open that up quite a lot.
Left: Normal Android 11 dark theme. Right: A mockup of what expanded color options could look like. Both images via 9to5Google.
Details are sparse, but we expect Android 12 may allow theming via a defined primary color and accent color — presumably user-selected in some way, potentially with a number of presets. But even better, Android 12 will also pass that color data to third-party apps, allowing them to pick up on these cues as well. If the slow rollout of system-level dark theme support is any indicator, this may not make a difference for years, and plenty of apps will never implement it, but it could be nice for those that do.
These images (likely mockups) could be affected by Android 12's expanded theming.
Some of the recent Android 12 mockups may also be themed, giving one potential example of what a sandy color combo could look like in action. But whether what we get looks like the images we already have or something else, Android 12 is set to expand system-level theme support for more extensive customization — though maybe not to the degree that substratum or substratum light could.
Google has waffled back and forth when it comes to scrolling screenshots. First, the company said it was "infeasible." Then, at a Google I/O Q&A, Dave Burke overruled that decision, dictating that scrolling screenshots be added in Android R. the feature was spotted in development but ultimately pushed back and never made the final cut for Android R/11 when it landed. Rather than resort to what Google called a "quick hack" that emulates finger scrolling (like what Samsung and OnePlus do on their devices), Google decided it wanted to make the Cadillac version compatible with every kind of view and app without any unexpected behavior or jank.
Image via XDA Developers.
Well, it turns out that change in scope, predictably, meant a whole lot more work, and so Google placed the feature on hold. The current hope is that we'll get it in Android 12.
Whether it's an improvement meant to help with the emerging category of foldables, or just Google playing catch-up with Samsung, Android 12 is expected to have support for App Pairs. The feature will treat two apps as a single app while multitasking. If the name sounds familiar, that's because Samsung literally calls its version the same thing.
An app pair on the Z Fold2.
It isn't immediately clear if you'll be able to launch apps as a pair, but based on the details spotted so far, we know they can be managed together, and if you switch between apps, one doesn't just stay "pinned" as you swap between apps with the other. They're treated as a single functional unit.
The divider between the apps is also picking up some new features, like the ability to double-tap it to swap app positions, and I suspect Google may also pick up some of Samsung's other multi-window/multitasking management tools from OneUI before everything is over.
Better RCS messaging
The last big feature we're looking forward to may not actually pan out, and we've been waiting on it for a while: Better RCS support.
Right now, RCS messaging apps on Android basically interface directly with their services. While SMS is handled by the system and passed to whichever app has permissions to access it, RCS is all direct and external from Android itself. There's no easy system API for RCS messaging. But, ideally, that won't be the case forever.
RCS in Google Messages.
Back in 2019, the first signs of system-level RCS support were spotted. More recently, we've seen a couple of other details that indicate RCS support could be changing in Android 12. Nothing right now outright states that Android 12 will further expand RCS support to third-party apps (and it would be pretty damn complicated for Google to do, as well) but the company is clearly making changes to it, and that's the hope.
There are plenty of other potentially big features to land in Android 12 (I'm pretty excited about the Android Runtime becoming a Mainline module), and Google almost certainly has a few surprises left before it is released. We'll be sure to cover everything as we find it once the first preview lands in the upcoming weeks.