Series: Android 12 Feature Spotlights

This article is part of our Android 12 Feature Spotlights series.

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We are now a mere one release away from Android 12's first beta releases, but big new changes are still landing, like a wide rollout of the hidden "silky home" redesign, new animations, and a bubbly, rounded appearance to many UI elements. In fact, Android 12 is shaping up to be one of the biggest visual updates to Android in years, so let's take a look at all the new features — both in the recent Developer Preview 3 release and in Android 12 overall — that you can look forward to your phone getting with Android 12.

If this is your first Android Developer Preview rodeo, a bit of context: These early releases are works in progress. Some features we spot now may not make the final release, and plenty of features that will aren't even present yet. Excluding bug-fix updates, at least 4-5 more builds are planned before the final stable release, so we've barely touched the surface of what to expect when Android 12 lands later this year.

Much of our current knowledge is based on "hidden" features which are not currently enabled or user-facing, but nonetheless present in a disabled, partly work-in-progress state inside recent releases. Everything we know about those features could change with a single update.

Much like our prior Android 10 and Android 11 unofficial changelogs, the organizational logic for the features listed below is also subject to change. As new releases land, different categories may ultimately be more appropriate. Expect to see individual features shuffled around between sections over time (the "Hidden" features probably won't stay hidden forever), and reversions will be struck from the list.

Also note, because our first glimpse of Android 12 comes courtesy of Google's Pixels, some of these features may end up being Pixel-only. Some are labeled with that disclaimer based on what we know already, but sometimes we can't be sure until Android 12 hits AOSP.

One last thing. Before we jump in, I'd like to thank you, our readers, for your regular tips and support. Covering all the changes in Android 12 would be much, much harder without your help, and we ❤️ you.

Developer Preview 3

Developer Preview 3 has landed, the last major release (excluding bug-fixing updates) expected before we switch to the slightly more stable betas. Contrary to some expectations, the pace of feature releases hasn't slowed down, and DP3 is packed with tons of changes, including many that are user-facing. Everything new since we last updated this list is all just below in the "What's new?" section.

What's new?

The Android 12 feature list

Entirely new Android 12 features

Most of the big headlining changes are still "hidden," so expect this section to be plumped out later.

"Hidden" and upcoming Android 12 features

  • Android 12's big visual redesign
    • "Material NEXT:" The evolution of Google's Material Design language apparently going to debut with Android 12.
    • Theming
      • An early report alleged that Android 12 would be adding a new theming system that would even modify the appearance of other apps (if they supported it).
      • Later mockups showed off what may have been a themed interface and other UI changes that could potentially be Pixel-specific as part of a new "Silk" or "Silky" theme.
        • The "Silky home" redesign for Settings did roll out in DP3, but there may still be more changes from these mockups coming.
      • Wallpaper-based themes in Android 12 were then spotted in testing and manually enabled. The system, called "Monet," can pull colors from your wallpaper and dynamically create a theme that works with it, covering both the Settings app, notifications, subtle elements in the lock screen, and more.
      • Runtime resource overlay improvements: Android 12 allows for on-the-fly generation of RROs. For end-users, this could be what powers Android 12's upcoming theme system, but developers may find other applications.
    • Lock screen adjustments 
    • Notifications
      • Overall redesign: First spotted in what are likely mockups prior to Android 12's release, the first changes in what we expect to be a bigger notification and notification shade redesign were hidden in DP1. That includes a thicker brightness bar, increased white space padding, and some Quick Settings toggle tweaks, though other changes are likely planned.
      • Bubble notification tweaks: New animations with "softer" transitions are planned. In landscape, bubble notifications will also be moved to the side of the screen and listed vertically, where they're less likely to block content rather than staying at the top.
      • Experiment disables notification half-swipe: Spotted in-development as part of DP1, Google may kill the notification half-swipe used to access things like notification settings on a per-app basis and snooze — though snooze has a new spot in Android 12, so no big loss.
      • "Automatic" sound/vibration setting for notifications: Hidden in Android 12 is a new setting that lets "the system determine if a notification should make sound or vibration," which also raises or lowers its priority, seemingly. A red arrow or blue arrow will indicate when that has happened, indicating when a notification has been raised or lowered, respectively, likely also associated with other Adaptive notification tweaks in Android 12 DP1.
    • Widgets
      • Widget stacks: Hidden and disabled by default in DP1 is a new feature to enable side-scrolling widgets — at least, for Google's own At a Glance smart space.
  • Privacy, including privacy indicators and toggles
  • Multitasking
    • App pairs: Cloning a feature from Samsung phones, Google has been working on the ability to manage a pair of apps together as one while multitasking with multi-window mode, which could come in handy for both tablets and Android foldables.
    • Double-tap divider swap app positions in multi-window mode: The divider separating apps in Android 12's multi-window mode may allow you to swap the app's positions when double-tapped.
    • Android 12 DP2's hidden taskbar: In what could be a boon to multitasking, a benefit for big screens, or a change for Android's long-developed desktop mode, there's a new taskbar hidden in Developer Preview 2. It's persistent across the UI and almost Chrome OS-like, giving you quick access to your recent apps.
  • Quick Settings
  • Improvements to third-party app stores: We haven't seen any changes live just yet, but Google promised last year that it would make it easier for folks to install third-party app stores on Android without compromising user security.
  • "Hibernation" for unused apps: A new system in Android 12 can optimize apps for storage in a "hibernated" state — seemingly if they go too long without being used, but it could be a manual process.
  • Restricted networking mode: Spotted in development earlier this year, Android 12 may get a feature that locks down networking permissions to just a handful of privileged system apps, though we aren't sure how it will manifest in a user-facing way.
  • Fonts and emoji decoupled from the system: Android 12 may let us finally update fonts and emoji separately from the system itself. That means you wouldn't have to wait on a manufacturer update to enjoy the latest emoji.
  • "Letterbox" feature: We don't know how it will work or what it will look like, but Google is working on a method to place an app inside a frame or window with adjustable colors and corners.
  • Game Mode/Dashboard
    • Android 12 may finally add a first-party Game Mode similar to that already implemented by other smartphone manufacturers, with things like an automatically engaged Do Not Disturb mode, locked screen brightness/auto-rotation, and more.
    • This will likely include a dedicated toolbar, which was spotted in development in DP1, though it could be Pixel-exclusive.
    • It's still disabled and hidden by default, but DP2 has more of that game mode stuff going on inside of it, including a dashboard with quick access to a handful of toggles/tools, DnD mode, and some larger boxes that might be used for something else — though it could be a Pixel-exclusive feature.
    • Game dashboard gets new features, still isn't user-facing: Android 12 DP3 added a handful of new features to the still unavailable probably Pixel-specific game mode/game dashboard, including a "game optimization" setting for fine-tuning performance and a floating menu that can show relevant toggles and a functioning FPS counter.
  • Face-based auto-rotate: An AI/camera-powered feature that may debut with Android 12 (or potentially land as part of a Feature Drop update — we aren't sure) will be able to adjust auto-rotation to take into account the angle of your face as you look at your phone. So even if you're on your side, your phone won't blindly accept gyroscope data and rotate to landscape unless that's how you're holding it.
  • Screenshots
  • Machine learning-augmented gestures: Android 12 has a new on-device machine learning model that seems to be tuned to refining how gesture navigation is triggered — currently and specifically, with variable tolerances for the back gesture.
  • On-device search
    • Pixel launcher search bar customization: Another one of those "hidden" features, DP2 has some in-development tweaks to the search bar on Pixels that could extend results to include slices, widgets, contacts, Play Store listings, and more.
      • Very likely tied to this is the recently-spotted support for universal search in third-party apps. It's tough to encapsulate a summary here, but Android 12 adds a new API that apps like launchers can use to pull even more results from on-device search, including app names, indexed files/photos, and even the web.
  • App icons in toast messages spotted in hidden test: It's hidden and disabled by default, but DP2 contains a test that includes app icons for toast messages.
  • "Smart Forwarding:" For dual-SIM devices, DP2 adds a feature that will allow you to forward calls between two SIMs on your phone — useful, for example, if one has service while the other doesn't. However, it doesn't actually seem to be live for us just yet, so we assume it's still hidden for now.
  • System-level "trash" management for deleted files — Android 11 added a hidden "trash" feature that apps could use to delete files, and Android 12 may further integrate that so it can be managed from the System app itself.

Visual changes

  • "Silky Home" settings layout: Android 12 has a hidden "Silky Home" mode, which can be enabled via ADB and adjusts how the Settings app looks to resemble Samsung's OneUI. It could be a Pixel-exclusive change, something tied to Android 12's theming system, or part of the larger Material NEXT redesign.
  • Changing background colors
    • Dark theme is no longer AMOLED black: Android 12 DP1 makes things gray again, perfect for emphasizing every inconsistency in your smartphone's OLED display at minimum brightness at night. (Not a fan, if you can't tell.)
      • In DP2 dark theme is even brighter. At this rate, it'll be a flat white by summer. The normal bright/white theme is also just slightly gray in DP2.
    • New blue Settings: Potentially tied to Android 12's theming system (and, therefore, it could be subject to change), but Android 12 DP1 has a new blue-ish look to the Settings menu.
  • New toggles: Android 12 rolled out a visual redesign for big top-of-list category toggles in Settings that include a secondary icon indicator for their state beyond color and position — potentially useful for accessibility, especially if the upcoming theme system doesn't play nice with colorblind-confusable colors.
  • Notifications
  • Android 12 lets you hide/mask the hole punch on the Pixel 5: Pretty self-explanatory, but Android 12 allows you set the display cutout setting in developer options to "Hide" for the Pixel 5, 4a, and 4a 5G, making the status bar black and solid in a way that hides it.
  • Lock screen
  • Compact widget picker: Android 12 DP2 rolled out a new, more compact layout for the Pixel Launcher's widget picker. Widgets are still sorted by app, but each app's list is collapsed by default, making it a little less busy and faster to scroll to the app you need.
  • Media player picks up accent colors: Android 12 DP2 is all about that better theme integration, and your custom accent colors will now apply to the Media Player's background as well, rather than just having it pick up from the album artwork for whatever is playing.
  • Rounder, bubblier look: Android 12 DP3 rounds the multitasking UI, Pixel Launcher app drawer, floating menus, volume menu, long-press app menus, folders, widgets, text selector, copy/paste UI, and basically everything.
  • Quick toggle state descriptions: Android 12 DP3 adds explicit state indicators under Quick Settings toggles. That means in addition to any visual indicators the icon may offer between strong and muted colors and the color of the icon, the text below each indicator will further confirm the state for both binary on/off toggles, as well as others with multiple states.
  •  New 4x4 grid size with smaller icons in Pixel Launcher: Android 12 DP3 introduces a 4x4 grid option that doesn't change icon size from the default 5x5, making things a little smaller than the existing 4x4 grid setting.
  • Theming
  • Jiggly new animations: Android 12 is thicc.

Privacy and security changes

Modifications to existing features

Accessibility changes

Developer-facing changes

  • Apps will open faster from notifications: Android 12 will force developers to use a better system when calling their apps from a notification which should be much faster.
  • Better support for rich content: A new unified API allows you to pull content from a clipboard, keyboard, or even just drag and drop. There's more to it than that, but in short, users can move content like photos or videos between apps even more easily in Android 12.
  • HEVC and HDR transcoding: Android 12 will allow apps to work with the new format, even if they don't directly support them, converting between HEVC or HDR and AVC on the fly, and it's easy for developers to implement. For you, that means fewer issues playing back content recorded on other devices.
  • Android 12 is also coming to Android TV: Probably to be expected.
  • AVIF image support: Android 12 adds support for the new container format, which can hit a higher quality at smaller sizes compared to older formats.
  • New Mainline modules
    • Android Runtime is a Project Mainline module now: Google has further broken out system components into Play Store-updatable modules in Android 12, including the core Android Runtime (ART). This means more system bits can be updated for security once your phone stops getting regular updates, and critical updates for related components can be deployed more quickly than once per month.
    • Transcoding is a mainline module now, too.
  • Peer-to-peer connections coexist with an existing Wi-Fi connection: As long as your hardware supports it, Android 12 can maintain a peer-to-peer connection together with your existing Wi-Fi connection, which could be a boon for things like smart home device setup.
  • Ultra-wideband APIs: System-only for now, but Android 12 will have support for the new ultra-wideband hardware popularized by Samsung and Apple.
  • Improved Binder IPC calls: This means potentially faster performance for certain apps doing certain things.
  • Native ImageDecoder can decode GIF and WebP: Cutting down reliance on third-party libraries, ImageDecoder can pull all frames from animation files now.
  • Foreground service restrictions: Apps targeting Android 12 which plan to run in the background can no longer start foreground services outside a handful of special cases.
  • SDK lockdown: As with each Android release, Google is deprecating a handful of undocumented SDK interfaces/APIs.
  • Textured ripple animation: A new patterned ripple effect is available for animations in DP2, together with an iOS-like overscroll bounce.
  • Brand new API for rounded corners: These days, phones curve the edges of their screens to better fit snugly against the curved corners of the body itself, reducing bezels and providing a subjectively "cleaner" look. Because the size of those curves can and do vary, Google is rolling out a new API that apps can query to figure out exactly how those corners are curved and better adapt content to suit it. For us, that means content will better fit on phones with rounded corners.
  • New API for app checksums: Android 12 has a new, faster, and more secure system to test installed app package integrity.
  • Bandwidth estimation API enhancements: Newer and ostensibly better results on estimates for throughput on cellular or Wi-Fi connections.
  • Easier visual effects for blurs, color filters, and more: Android 12 rolls out a handful of new tools for developers to play with to do things like blur an ImageView or make other visual effects in their apps more easily.
  • Alarms in third-party clock apps should be more accurate: Partly because of changes dating back to Doze and partly because of manufacturers messing with Android, third-party clock apps have had issues firing off alarms at the right time — or at all. Android 12 adds a new permission that should help with that.
  • Third-party apps may be able to use special camera modes: A new API added in Android 12 will let apps harness special camera modes your phone might support, like specific low-light modes, portrait modes, or other systems.
  • Quad bayer API for third-party apps: Third-party apps using the camera on Android 12 will be able to harness extra tools (and the extra resolution) of those fancy new quad bayer camera sensors.
  • New call notification template: Apps doing voice or video calls can now use easy templates that should also be a little more consistently styled.
  • Haptics API improvements including broader frequencies and support for independent or multiple actuators.
  • Debugging improvements: Just developer things.
  • App backup control: Android 12 allows developers to set different rules for backup types (cloud vs. device-to-device)
  • RenderScript APIs will be deprecated: Vulkan and OpenGL are the future, though developers have some time to make the switch.