It's mid-February, which means it's time for Google to start releasing the first developer preview of its upcoming OS update. The company's VP of engineering Dave Burke said in a blog post that with Android 12, it's "investing in key areas to help deliver a polished experience and better performance."
Most of today's news pertain to developers, but we can glean some clues about what new features might be coming. For instance, there will be support for more media types like AVIF for higher quality images in smaller files. Gesture navigation will be simplified and more consistent in immersive mode, which applies when you're doing things like playing a game, reading a book or watching a video. While there's still going to be the option for developers to only show the translucent navigation bar (to prevent accidental swipes when in full screen), any app that doesn't have this set will default to recognizing a swipe from the side or bottom as going back or home.
In this preview, we also learn that apps in Android 12 will be able to provide what Google called "audio-coupled haptic feedback through the phone's vibrator." This would allow developers to create experiences like simulating rough terrain in a racing game, while a video calling app could use custom ringtones to create vibration patterns that let the user identify the caller without hearing or seeing the device. Notifications are also getting "more modern, easier to use and more functional," with Burke writing that "We’re also optimizing transitions and animations across the system to make them more smooth."
Burke also said in Android 12, notifications will be decorated "with custom content with icon and expand affordances to match all other notifications." That wording is not very clear but it sounds like at least notifications will be getting some new flourishes, if not a refreshed look. Plus, the company is working to make alerts faster and more responsive by blocking intermediary broadcast receivers or services it calls "trampolines."
Google is also adding an Android Runtime Module (ART) in the latest OS that will allow the company to "push updates to the core runtime and libraries on devices running Android 12." This is part of Project Mainline that lets Google push security and other important updates to apps via the Play Store, so you won't have to wait till a system upgrade for critical fixes.
Android isn't an OS just for phones — it also powers tablets, foldables and TVs. While Google didn't share much on any features or updates coming for dual screen or flexible devices, it did share that this first preview of Android 12 is also available for Android TVs. This is so developers can start testing their apps for the new Google TV interface the company introduced last year, and is important for a more consistent and coherent experience on that platform.
There are plenty more new features in the first developer preview of Android 12, including "rich content insertion" that would allow users to paste content from clipboards, keyboards or drag and drop sources. Google is also adding a bunch of new controls for privacy and security as well as an HEVC transcoder so that apps that don't support that video format can get it in AVC format instead.
This initial preview release is meant only for developers, so Google is limiting it to manual downloads. If you're a developer and want to check Android 12 out, you can install the preview today by flashing a device system image to a Pixel phone (Pixel 3 and newer). Those who don't own a Pixel device can use the Android Emulator in Android Studio.