Android 12: everything you need to know about Google’s update

Upgrade is big design overhaul, improves speed and privacy and adds new features to Maps and Photos

Google has announced its big update to Android 12, which will soon roll out in beta to the company’s Pixel devices and those made by third-party manufacturers.

Announced as part of Google’s I/O developer conference in California, Android 12 introduces its biggest visual overhaul since 2014 along with improved performance, a new privacy dashboard and updates for Google Maps and Photos apps.

Here’s what you need to know about the update.

When can I get it?

Right now if you own a Google Pixel smartphone or a handful of other devices from third-party manufacturers, including Asus, Nokia, OnePlus, Oppo and Xiaomi, which are all in the process of making a beta version of Android 12 available for download.

Be warned, some things may not work and bugs will be expected with beta versions of the software.

Anyone owning a smartphone from another manufacturer such as Samsung is likely to have to wait a couple of months from the final release of Android 12 by Google at the end of the summer.

How much will it cost?

The update is free from Google and other manufacturers. If you are being asked to pay for an update it is likely to be a scam.

Will my apps work?

Android 12 has not changed the way the core operating system works, which means almost all apps should work fine straight out of the box if they have been updated in the last couple of years.

Material You

Android 12 gets a big visual overhaul, injecting colour, personalisation and much larger elements into the design.
Android 12 gets a big visual overhaul, injecting colour, personalisation and much larger elements into the design. Photograph: Google

Google is completely overhauling the look and feel of Android in version 12. The new Material You design is a follow-up to the previous Material design introduced in 2014. It adds more colour, greater personalisation and an element of playfulness.

Much of the interface has been made larger and bolder, from a big new clock design on the lockscreen to the oblong quick settings toggles in the notification shade. Even the pin-entry pad and volume slider are significantly bigger and easier to tap.

Various interactions and animations throughout the system have also been revamped, responding faster, smoother and with much greater visual flourish, such as a big clock expanding to full view after you’ve swiped away all your notifications or ripples of colour across the screen when you put your phone on charge.

Full theme support

A mainstay of many third-party versions of Android for years, Google is introducing further support for themes that can change almost any aspect of the interface. A new system will analyse your choice of wallpaper and change the colours of buttons, icons and other elements to complement it.

There are also a bunch of new options for widgets, icon shape and size and many other things.

Faster performance and longer battery life

Google has improved the performance and efficiency of the underlying systems of Android by up to 22%. That means apps should feel faster, while battery life should be longer.

Privacy dashboard, camera, mic and location

Google continues strengthening the privacy protections built into Android.
Google continues strengthening the privacy protections built into Android. Photograph: Google

Knowing which apps you’ve given permission to access which part of your phone or data can be a minefield of settings. The new privacy dashboard attempts to solve that by giving you one place to see what is being accessed on your phone, how often and by which apps, and revoke permissions more easily.

Google has also made an alert pop up at the top right of the screen when an app accesses your camera or microphones, similar to that introduced recently by Apple. When an app accesses the clipboard Android will also show an alert, again similar to iOS.

Android 12 will also force apps to give you a choice between using your precise or approximate location, such as roughly where you are for the weather app but the precise spot you’re standing for your map app.

Private Compute Core

As part of Google’s new “privacy by design”, the company is now overtly naming and controlling AI systems that operate directly on the phone rather than relying on sending information across the internet to a server. The company has steadily been introducing services such as Android’s live video captions, “now playing” music recognition feature and its smart reply system for messages that run on the phone, which makes them faster but also significantly more private.

Sameer Samat, an executive in charge of Android, said: “[Private Compute Core] allows us to introduce new technologies that are private by design, allowing us to keep your personal information safe, private and local to your phone.”

Google Maps

Google Maps will be able to show the busyness of whole areas, not just individual shops or locations.
Google Maps will be able to show the busyness of whole areas, not just individual shops or locations. Photograph: Google

In addition to changes under the hood of Android, Google also announced forthcoming updates to its apps. Google Maps is introducing a new routing system that picks roads that avoid drivers having to brake heavily, reducing the likelihood of accidents and improving efficiency.

Google’s live busyness information from shops and locations is expanding to areas, showing how busy a part of a town or neighbourhood is on the map too.

Google Photos

Memories, which are collections of photos based on location, time and date such as holidays, are getting an AI upgrade. Google will now do deeper analysis of your photos, looking at the colour and shape of objects such as a backpack, for instance, to link photos together and highlight interesting moments automatically.

You will also be able to stop the system highlighting photos of particular people, times or other factors, which will help remove or stop painful memories from being resurfaced. A new passcode-protected “locked folder” will provide a space to save photos separately so they don’t show up in your main feed or other apps and services.

Finally, the app will also use AI to create animated moments from two relatively similar photos, such as two shots of a person turning their head to see the camera. It does so by extrapolating information from the two photos and creating new images in between them to fill out an animated photo.


Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

The GuardianTramp

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