Android 12 What’s New Coming: Better Emergency Calls, Bigger Notifications and More19.02.2021
From small tweaks to features that don’t work yet, this is what Android 12 is bringing to the table so far
The Android 12 developer preview is out, and the internet is busy poring over it to find any new features or hints at the OS’s future. So far, there have been a few interesting things discovered, such as an Emergency SOS feature, some redesigns, and other useful, if minor, finds:
The ability to prevent specific apps from showing media controls in quick settings
One of those changes is to the media resumption controls, which offers the ability to enable or disable specific apps from utilizing this quick settings section.
When diving into your device Settings > Sound and vibration > Media, you will now not only be able to disable the Media Player within your device Quick Settings or notification shade, you can disable any app that might have audio controls or player status.
Given just how many applications you may have on your device at any one time, the ability to disable specific apps from appearing in this media controls section might prove to be useful. Sometimes you might switch between say YouTube Music and say YouTube, play a video and the Quick Settings player will prioritize the latest playing media. This is incredibly frustrating if you like to switch between apps and want to quickly pause then restart audio.
This should help ensure that unwanted media player controls are accessible when you just jump in and out of an app. When using headphones, for instance, only those apps you have “allowed” will be able to resume playing or be found within the media control panel of your Quick Settings.
Naturally, this is one issue that will persist with a system-wide media player rather than having individual players for each application separately. However, if you prefer to just have a small selection of apps able to utilize this quick settings media control section, then it might improve your listening experience in a future stable Android 12 build.
The ability to wirelessly share Wi-Fi passwords to people nearby with the tap of a button
In recent versions of Android, Google has put emphasis on improving the ability to share WiFi passwords. With Android 12, that’s now taking advantage of the new Nearby Share feature to share WiFi passwords.
Like in Android 10 and Android 11, Google allows users to share WiFi passwords using a QR code or just the password they can see after using their fingerprint to verify their identity.
In Android 12, Google adds on to this functionality by bringing Nearby Share to the WiFi password screen. If you dig into a network’s settings and tap the “Share” button, you’ll see a dedicated button for Nearby Share which, on tapping, will allow users to quickly share the SSID and password of a network with other Android users in the vicinity.
It’s a pretty simple addition, but one we’re glad to see! Google first debuted Nearby Share last year and integrated it into a few places around Android, such as the default share menu, but having it as a quick and easy option for WiFi networks should definitely come in handy — ya know, when there’s not a pandemic preventing visitors.
An update to Markup that lets you put emoji (and text) on screenshots
Android 12 significantly revamps the Markup tool with the ability to add text and emoji to screenshots.
The first change to the screenshotting experience sees users no longer be able to tap an “X” to remove the bottom-left corner notification. Instead, users can clear by swiping right-to-left.
Once you tap “Edit,” you’re greeted with a near-identical UI as before. However, undo/redo has been moved to the top bar next to Share and Trash. The first tool at the bottom is crop, which is no longer always-active in the preview.
Next is the ability to insert text with the keyboard automatically opening and seven colors available. You can pinch in-and-out to adjust size, while a tap on the overlay lets you delete. The big feature is adding emoji stickers with six defaults shown. An overflow menu brings up the full picker.
Rounding out the bottom bar is the pen and highlighter tools, as well as the eraser.
This is a convenient upgrade in Android 12 that means you can rely more on the built-in Markup for quick (and fun) screenshot edits.
Bluetooth pairing options are now included in the media picker
A reduce bright colors accessibility option
As I mentioned before, there’s a new Reduce Bright Colors accessibility feature. pic.twitter.com/jVa22IKB50— Mishaal Rahman (@MishaalRahman) February 18, 2021
Improved gamepad rumble support
Android’s gamepad vibration functionality is so rudimentary, you could be forgiven for not knowing it’s there at all. Last month, though, our friends at XDA spotted signs that the situation could be improving soon — and today, with the release of Android 12’s first developer preview, we’ve got even more concrete evidence.
Two new features in Android 12 look like they could spell improved controller vibration support. First, Google’s building in system-level support for “haptic-coupled audio effect(s).” In essence, this lets app and game developers use audio to trigger phone vibration. (Sony has a similar custom feature on its newer Xperia 1 and 5 devices.) Second, a new setting under Languages & input called “Redirect vibration.” It doesn’t seem to be functional yet, but once it is, it’ll send phone vibrations to a connected game controller.
Taken together, those two features should spell a relatively easy-to-implement solution for Android developers to get working controller vibration into their games: when there’s a boom or a bzzt in-game, your controller will know to vibrate, approximating console-style haptic feedback.
Tying vibration to audio cues isn’t a perfect solution — it’s kind of a crude workaround. But Google implies it can be used with a pretty high degree of granularity, saying the haptic-audio effects could be used to do things like “simulate rough terrain in a racing game.”
A toggle switch redesign (that looks really nice in my opinion)
There are some notable visual changes, like these new toggles that appear in some sections of Settings. Weirdly, they don’t replace the old toggles everywhere, but they are live in a few spots.
Developer options in Android 11 (left) and Android 12 (right). Note the different toggle up top, but the same toggles down below.
On top of the general blue-gray look you’ll notice and the adjustment in padding, some of the toggle buttons have been replaced with a snazzy new version that shows a wider slider and a checkmark when enabled or minus sign when disabled.
We aren’t sure if this new toggle is meant to appear in more places and it simply doesn’t yet, or if it will only supplement the existing design for more important features as it does now, like header-level toggles pictured above. Either way, Android 12 has a new toggle, among other features.
A developer option to hide the Pixel’s hole-punch camera cutout
The first Android 12 beta adds a new option for the Pixel 5 that fills in the status bar with a black background, effectively hiding the front-facing camera. Once you enable Android’s developer settings (keep tapping on the ‘Build number’ in the About page until you see “you are now a developer”), the option can be found at Settings > System > Advanced > Developer options > Display cutout.
It’s a bit strange that the option wasn’t available when the Pixel 5 launched, especially when Google’s Pixel 3 XL (and possibly other notched Pixel phones) had the setting from the beginning. However, unlike the setting on the 3 XL, the status bar is not shifted downwards.
The addition of a 4 x 5 grid option to the Pixel Launcher
Google has added another option to the grid choices, 4×5. Specifically, that means four spaces across and five spaces down. As you might notice, this is the first nonsymmetrical option for the Pixel Launcher, offering a rectangular shape that may be better fit for taller phones.
To switch to the new 4×5 grid, assuming you’ve installed the Android 12 Developer Preview, long press a blank spot on the homepage of the Pixel Launcher, then tap “Styles & wallpapers.” From here, tap “Grid” in the bottom bar. You’ll now be able to scroll down the list to find “4×5” as a new fifth grid option.
Interestingly, the Pixel Launcher’s new 4×5 grid option has a unique effect on the app drawer, as the suggestion row at the top shrinks down to four apps wide, while the rest of the drawer stays at five apps wide. When using a smaller grid size like 4×4 or 3×3, the app drawer stays at 5 apps wide on all rows.
You can now gesture out of full-screen apps with a single swipe instead of two
You either love or hate gesture-based navigation. Fortunately, Android lets you use whichever you like best. But even if you’re all about swiping around with the smaller navigation bar, there’s always been one sort of annoying impediment: Exiting the full-screen view in apps. It’s one tap or swipe to bring up the navigation elements and another to actually swipe home or back. But Android 12 fixes that; it’s all just one swipe now (though apps may need to be updated to do it).
Google first divulged the details in its initial announcement, and following publication, we dug up some more information in the developer documentation. Visually, nothing is any different, but if apps are constructed the right way, gestures are now allowed even if the navigation bar is hidden by a full-screen or immersive view.
We can also confirm this behavior for ourselves on Android 12, and it does seem to vary by app. Google Photos, for example, will let you exit from a full-screen immersive view with just a single swipe, triggering back or home without first showing the nav bar and notification shade. However, it doesn’t work in YouTube — presumably, the app needs to be updated to be in line with Google’s documented requirements. (Given how much YouTube deviates from the rest of the Google apps suite in other basic ways, we’re not holding our breath.)
Home gestures on Android 11 (left) and Android 12 (right).
This might seem like an inconsequential change, but it’s been a point of frustration. Back when the new gestures landed in Android Q, it took a bit for Google to iterate onto the solution we ultimately got, which required that you perform an action to first bring up the notification bar, and then swipe again to actually go back or home. That two-step process is a little unintuitive, and it’s awkward to remember when just swiping for back on its own seems more intuitive. But now, simply swiping a single time can trigger back or home even in a full-screen view on Android 12 — so long as apps are put together correctly.
As pointed out by Android Police, the Emergency SOS feature is also much easier to access now. Before, making an emergency call required you to hold the power button down, tap the emergency button, then tap twice on the Call 911 button. In Android 12, however, it can be activated by rapidly pressing the power button five times, which will trigger a countdown telling you that an emergency call is about to be placed.
Android Police notes that, by default, it calls 911. You can set it to call a different number, but if the number isn’t a government-run emergency line, your phone will have to be unlocked for the call to go through.
There have been a few minor redesigns of the Settings app search bar and the lock screen and notification media player, but Mishaal Rahman found a feature flag that “dramatically” changes the settings UI to be easier to use one-handed.
9to5Google has also found that some screens in the settings app have blue-tinted backgrounds. It speculates that it could be part of a rumored theming system, but at the moment, it seems very unfinished.
Of course, notifications have also gotten a redesign, with 9to5Google noting that there’s a dedicated snooze button now, and the icon bubbles are now much larger. This looks like it reduces the density of notifications, but it’s still very early days for Android 12, so it’s possible changes could be made or toggles could be added to control whether you want to see the larger app icon.
There are also a few features that are hinted at, or even have settings present, but currently don’t seem to work or aren’t enabled, including:
- Scrolling screenshots
- A Pixel 5 double-tap feature
- A one-handed mode
- Privacy toggles to turn cameras and microphones off system-wide
- Pinch-to-resize picture-in-picture video
Given the early state of the developer preview, it’s not really meant for day-to-day use on your main phone. And as with all betas, these features and designs are subject to change in new releases. Still, it’s a tantalizing glimpse at the future of Android and the features Google is adding to an already feature-packed mature OS.