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Android 12 features: Everything you need to know about Google's latest OS

A comprehensive look at Android 12's new features.
Features
By
October 19, 2021

Update: October 19th, 2021: Android 12 officially launched today with the stable version, alongside announcing the latest Pixel series. Below is the full list of confirmed features.


Android 12 is finally a fully realized OS after nearly eight months of developer previews and betas. The fresh OS is one of Google’s biggest efforts in years with a host of new features along with a massive design refresh. You should be able to install the update if you have a compatible phone. Since it’s a full release, you shouldn’t face any major bugs or issues.

On top of the full release, Google had one of the largest beta programs in its history with a dozen OEMs helping with the effort. Now that it’s a stable release, you can download and install the update using this method or by checking for updates in the phone’s settings.

Related: Android 12 redesign is the biggest revamp in years

As of the time of this writing, the update is only available for recent Pixel devices, alongside a few other select devices. For the time, though, we’ll take a look at all the new features we could find and tell you about them.

Android 12 features – Everything you need to know:

  1. Material You and other new design elements
  2. New features
  3. New under-the-hood changes
  4. Security and privacy improvements

Material You and other new design elements

Android 12 Screens
Google

The big story this year is the massive redesign for Android 12. The new design, Material You, blends multiple elements together into a single cohesive design language that works across the entire OS. Let’s take a dive into each piece individually.

Color extraction

Color extraction is the base coat of paint in the new redesign. Basically, the OS natively extracts the colors from your wallpaper and uses them to theme your OS. You can see how it looks in the screenshot above. Basically, you set a wallpaper, Android 12 extracts the colors, and then your OS has hints of color from it.

The color changes take place all over the OS, including the Settings, Quick Settings tiles, and any app with Material You support. On Pixel devices, examples include the dialer, contacts app, and calculator. It even works with widgets as well, as shown in the video at the top of the article. We will see more as developers begin adding support.

Users can override the color extraction and choose a color if they want to. It looks quite nice, even if the OS tends to favor light, pastel colors over vibrant colors. Of course, the Styles & Wallpapers app on Pixel devices was revamped to house all of these new changes.

Widget emphasis

Android 12 Widgets
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Android 12 puts a much larger emphasis on widgets than many previous versions of Android. The widget selector was completely overhauled for easier scrolling and viewing. Additionally, widgets have a few new APIs to improve performance, work with Material You theming, and even new widgets in Android 12 natively.

The new APIs help developers improve how widgets look and function. Hopefully, it encourages developers to update widgets since many look the same as they did years and years ago. Plus, with Material You theming, it’ll be easier to personalize widgets and make them look better with your home screen. This is the biggest emphasis Google has put on widgets since resizable widgets became a thing in Android Honeycomb.

Quick Settings tiles

Android 12 Quick Settings Toggles
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
The Quick Settings received a rather large overhaul as well. The smaller toggles are gone, replaced by larger, rounded rectangle buttons. These new tiles work like previous toggles where you tap to turn them on and off. There are also new tiles for camera and microphone access (more on that later), Google Pay, alerts, and smart home stuff.

A few of the tiles work differently. For instance, the Internet tile always opens a prompt now and houses both mobile and Wi-Fi data information. By and large, it is just an aesthetic change. On the plus side, the larger tiles are much easier to read and house more information. Of course, that comes at the cost of space. Users who use toggles heavily will no doubt need multiple pages.

Settings

Android 12 Settings Menu
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
The Settings menu not only saw a redesign, but also a few minor changes. For the redesign, it borrows heavily from Samsung’s One UI with large headers that take up a ton of space. It makes the top settings on any given page easier to reach on taller phones. The new design, codenamed Silky Home, required ADB to access in early developer previews, but comes stock on Android 12.

The only other noteworthy change is the addition of Safety & Emergency to the main Settings page. It lets you define stuff like an emergency contact and some other stuff without the need to dive into the settings further.

Notifications and other changes

Google IO 2021 Sameer Samat talks Android 12 06 1
Android 12 has a bunch of smaller changes. The list includes animations to make things smoother, a new always-on display that changes based on whether or not you have notifications, slightly updated notifications, and other little bits to make the OS feel more fluid, alive, and responsive. These changes are present across the OS in a bunch of different ways. There is also a new charging animation when you plug in your phone that looks quite nice.

Notifications also got some love from Google this year. Not only did they get a subtle design update to fit better with Android 12’s aesthetics, but under-the-hood changes help apps launch faster when opening from a notification along with other improvements to make them look and feel better.

If you want to learn more, you can read more here for more specifics.


New features

Android 12 Scrolling Screenshot
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Android 12 also shipped with some new features. There were no knockout punches this year, but most of the new features added some quality of life improvements that we appreciate nonetheless. Here is a quick roundup of the new features of Android 12.

Scrolling screenshots

Scrolling screenshots existed long before Android 12, but the inclusion is definitely welcome. This feature was added in the third beta build and stayed. It’s a fairly simple task. Take a screenshot as normal and then click the Capture More button to get a full scrolling screenshot. You can crop from there if you want to. In addition, the screenshot edit section was improved with new features like adding text and other stuff.

Read more: Hands-on with Android 12’s new scrolling screenshot feature

AppSearch

Android 12 AppSearch
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
AppSearch is a neat new feature. It basically lets you search for stuff within apps. It’s been a feature on other operating systems like Windows for years. Basically, the search is able to see inside of your apps and return search results from them. An example would be searching for something you wrote in a note and the search will direct you to that note without entering the app.

The feature works offline and has an endless supply of potential uses. You can even search for music and the search will return results from your streaming app of choice. Google says that AppSearch should return results faster than using in-device search while also using fewer resources.

You can read more about it here.

Improved auto-rotate

Android 12 face detect auto rotate
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
For years, auto-rotate was decided by your phone’s accelerometer. It detects when your phone is flipped on its side and then the screen does the same. Android 12 introduces face detection for auto-rotate. Basically, your phone looks at your face and only rotates if it notices your phone has changed orientation. Thus, you can do things like lay in bed on your side and the phone won’t rotate.

Easier Wi-Fi sharing

Android 12 DP 1 Wi Fi Sharing
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

This one is a pretty minor new feature. The QR code method is still available like previous versions of Android. However, there is now a small button below that lets you use Nearby Share to send your Wi-Fi credentials to someone else’s phone. It’s faster when sharing with multiple people and doesn’t require you to hold your phone up for everyone to scan.

One-handed mode

Android 12 one handed mode
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Android 12 includes a native one-handed mode. It’s available in the Settings by going to System and then Gestures. The mode shrinks everything down to half size. It looks a lot like multi-window mode, except the top half of the screen is blank. The one-handed mode makes it easier to reach basically anything one-handed on taller phones.

Rich content insertion

Android 12 Rich Content Insertion
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
This minor but fun feature is new to Android 12. It’s an API for developers that lets their apps move media between apps. You’ll be able to do something like copy and paste an image from one app to another. It should also work with marked-up text (bold, italic, etc), videos, audio files, and more. It would help cut out the middle man of sharing images from one app to another.

Audio selection in the media player

Android 12 media player audio selector
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
The media player present in the Quick Settings lets you easily change your audio source. You simply click the button and a list appears with all the currently connected devices. For instance, you can switch from your Bluetooth speaker to your phone speaker at the press of a button.

Overview suggestions

Android 12 Overview Suggestions
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
It’s been a while since the recent apps section got some love from Google. This year, Google added overview suggestions. When you go into the recent apps section, you’ll now see suggestions for things to do. For instance, if you have a browser open, your recent apps may suggest that you copy the link to the page you have up for easier sharing.

Other minor additions

Android 12 Quick Tap
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority
There was a slew of minor additions, including a bunch of new emoji, a screen dimming mode in the Accessibility settings, tweaked gesture controls, and a quick tap function for select Pixel devices that lets you use the back of your device to control your phone. Hit the links above to learn more about those extra features.


New under-the-hood features

Google Stadia controller on table
Every version of Android comes with so many under-the-hood changes we can’t possibly list them all. Under-the-hood changes include mostly new APIs for developers that make apps better, but it’s stuff that you can’t really see in the OS itself. Here are some under-the-hood changes in Android 12.

Haptic feedback coupled with audio

You probably recognize this feature mostly from gaming consoles. You feel it when your controller shakes in response to an explosion on the screen. Android 12 comes with this ability natively. Game developers can make your phone vibrate when things happen on screen. There are some non-gaming uses for it as well, such as with movies or syncing vibration with custom ringtones.

See also: Why the haptics in your smartphone matter

App hibernation

Android 12 App Hibernation
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Android 12 comes with a new section in the Settings called unused apps. This new section houses apps that were put to sleep because you didn’t use them for a specific amount of time. Apps in this section have all of their permissions revoked and they’re basically just sitting there doing nothing until you open them again. You can also turn this functionality off on an app-by-app basis if you want to.

Game Mode APIs

Android 12 game mode api
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Android 12 includes new Game Mode APIs for game developers. The new API lets developers include variable performance functions for easier optimization. For instance, a developer can have a mode that lowers performance but preserves battery or a mode that maxes out performance at the expense of the battery. The new API is also tied to Android’s upcoming Game Dashboard, an overlay with various utilities for gamers. The Game Dashboard is coming later this year.

Other, smaller changes

Android 12 AVIF
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Most under-the-hood changes are pretty simple and don’t need whole paragraphs. Here’s a list of the more notable under-the-hood changes in Android 12 that don’t need lenghtly explanations.

  • HEVC media transcoding – Apps without HEVC support can have Android 12 transcode it into AVC — a more available video compression format.
  • AVIF image support – AVIF is an image codec like PNG or JPEG. It promises the same quality as JPEG but at a noticeably smaller file size. It uses the AV1 codec, first introduced in Android 10.
  • Multi-channel audio – Android 12 now supports MPEG-H in passthrough and offload modes. Audio mixers, resamplers, and effects now support up to 24 channels overall.
  • Optimizations for large and funky displays – Basically, Android 12 includes better support for things like televisions, foldable, and tablets.
  • Universal splash screens – Material You added a lot of cohesion to the Android experience. Part of that includes a splash screen for every app automatically whether the developer supported it or not. Devs have the ability to tweak he splash screen if they want.
  • Optimizations for apps – Some other optimizations for apps include Google blocking background apps from launching foreground services. There are also latency and workload distribution improvements that should also improve performance.
  • Picture-in-picture improvements – Some improvements to picture-in-picture mode includes smoother transitions, improved controls depending on what content is in the picture.
  • Project mainline improvements – Google announced that ART would make its way to Project Mainline and be available for update through the Play Store. There are other modules being added as well.

The list is even longer than this, believe it or not. You can learn more on the Android 12 developer page here.


Security and privacy improvements

Android 12 Privacy Dashboard
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Google has calmed down a bit with security and privacy improvements in Android 12. Usually, Google has a ton of little tweaks. However, in recent years, Google has opted for larger and more impactful changes.

Privacy Dashboard

The Privacy Dashboard was a big deal at Google I/O 2021. It is exactly what it says. You can access the dashboard from the settings and it shows you which apps used which permissions, when, and how often. The front of the dashboard houses a literal dashboard with a pie chart showing how many permissions were used. You can then click on any category and see a breakdown of which apps used the permission and exactly when.

From there, you can do a few things. You can ignore the data and just be aware of it. Another option is to click on an app in the dashboard where you’ll be taken to the part of the settings where you can disable the app’s permissions. We don’t think a lot of people will do that, but it’s very nice being able to see how and when all your apps use permissions.

Microphone and camera indicators

Android 12 microphone indicator
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Android 12 also includes indicators for camera and microphone use. Basically, a little microphone or camera indicator appears in the top right corner of your phone screen whenever an app accesses one of those things. A green dot persists after the initial indicator goes away to let you know that an app is still using it. It’s a quick and easy way to tell the user when the microphone or camera is active.

For added security, you can disable both the camera and microphone. Google added new toggles in the Quick Settings specifically for this purpose. You simply toggle one of them off to completely disable the camera or microphone. We tested it with the camera app and there is even a prompt that shows up if the camera permission is turned off.

Approximate location

Android 12 Approximate Location
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Google added the approximate location permission to Android 12. The approximate location permission gives apps a general idea of where you are, but not a definite location. It helps hide the user’s exact location from apps that don’t really need it. You should be able to choose which permission you want in any app that asks for location.

An example of where this is useful is a weather app. Weather apps don’t need your exact street address to show you the local weather. It doesn’t matter if you’re at home or at the local grocery store, the weather forecast is the same. There are many other examples, but the approximate location will dramatically reduce the number of apps that know where you are.

Smaller security updates

Android 12 Bluetooth Permission
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
There were some smaller security updates as well. We’ll list them out here.

  • Restricted Netlink MAC – In Android 11, only privileged apps could access a device’s Netlink MAC address. In Android 12, Google now restricts all apps from reading it.
  • Bluetooth permission changes – Apps can now scan for Bluetooth devices without needing to ask for your location.
  • Device sensor restrictions – Device sensors that sense motion or m
android 12 easter egg on google pixel 5 close up
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
ovement now have refresh restrictions. For example, an app can only ping your accelerometer so often before Android 12 tells it to wait a minute.
  • Android Compute Core – This is a new security feature in Android 12. We don’t know exactly how it works, but Google says it separates the cloud from on-device information when using things like Live Caption.
  • You can view more security and privacy changes from our roundup here or on the Android developer website here.


    Android 12 was a massive shift in how Google does things in the mobile space. Don’t forget to check out our review here for more details and click here to check out the Android 12 Easter egg!