Android has always been open, for a given value of "open," a property that companies like Samsung, Amazon, and Epic have used to create their own alternatives to the Play Store. But actually using those alternatives has always been a bit of a headache, with Android itself treating each individual app downloaded as a side-loaded app. Starting with Android 12, using alternative app stores will be a little more seamless, at least some of the time.
Android 12 is looking quite different from its predecessors, but the OS also has a few new tricks under the hood — particularly in the privacy department. The new Android version gives you clear indicators when an app is using your camera or your microphone in the top right corner of your display, so you're never caught off guard (many other manufacturers already include this in their custom Android software). But what if you want to be extra sure that no app can see or hear you? Google added two dedicated toggles for that, and they will go live on Android 12 Beta 2.
Android 12 news is coming fast and furious at the moment, but one of the smallest changes introduced in Beta 1 might make life a little easier for fans of Bluetooth headphones. The beta introduced support for Bluetooth LE Audio, a low-energy, high-efficiency mode for headphones and other audio devices. The API support is live now: if your headphones support LE Audio, they should use it automatically when connecting.
Back during the first Developer Preview for Android 12, a new iOS-like Emergency SOS feature was spotted that let you panic-smash your power button five times to make an emergency call. The feature disappeared from Settings in subsequent releases, but it's back as of Beta 1.
Most smartphone users have at least a few apps that they've installed, played around with for a day or so, and then entirely forgotten. These apps are using up precious storage and CPU cycles, so Google's been working on a way to get rid of them in a more subtle way. It's called app hibernation, and we've heard about it as an Android 12 feature for a while. Apparently it's live in the Android 12 beta released yesterday.
Among the bigger changes coming to Android 12 is the new "Monet" dynamic theming system that pulls colors from your background. It's not user-facing in the beta releases yet, but there was already some concern that you'd have to simply accept whichever colors it chose from your background. Thankfully, Google tells us that you'll be able to select your own colors instead if you prefer.
Apple and Google are each slow-stepping their ways to giving their customers more privacy options up front when they want to interact with apps. For example, Android has been offering users the choice to give specific permissions like access to location data to an app for one time only, while the app is in use, or not at all. With Android 12, users get to control how accurate the location data they give is.
We're all excited for the new design coming with Android 12, but Google's also implementing a ton of changes under the hood as well. User safety is more important than ever these days, and the new Privacy Dashboard should help keep you informed about where and when your data is being accessed. Google is also adding a new toast message any time an app accesses copied text, though it's not active in Android just yet.
Last year, Google rolled out a permissions exemption for contact-tracing apps that allowed them to scan for Bluetooth devices (you know, to keep track of people you may have been too close to during peak Covid) without needing to call the full location permission to do that, as they had to before. Now that change is rolling out even more widely. Android 12 Beta 1 has a new permission just for Bluetooth scanning.