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Android 12L: Everything you need to know about Google's OS for larger screens

Google surprised everybody with Android 12L, an OS for tablets, foldables, and other large screens. Let's take a look at it.

Published onMarch 8, 2022

Android 12L Devices
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Google announced Android 12L in October 2021, less than one month after the stable release of Android 12. It’s a fairly promising release for Google that aims to improve the Android experience on tablets, foldables, Chromebooks, and other large screens. It’s the first such focus on larger screens since the release of Android 3.0 Honeycomb back in 2012. You can check out all the big changes for Android 12 on phones here. Still, there is enough with Android 12L to take a look and see what all the fuss is about.

In true Google fashion, Android 12L has had a few developer previews and beta builds before fully launching for Pixel phones. Everything below is based on what we’ve seen so far. Let’s get started.

Android 12L: Everything you need to know

Design elements

The new OS only has a few different design elements. We expected that, and there will certainly be more changes in future developer previews and betas. For now, there is only a little to talk about.

Revamped overview screen

Android 12L Overview screen
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
The overview screen (or Recent Apps, if you prefer) received a small revamp. The apps typically have a vertical card look on Android 12, where every card looks the same. Android 12L bucks this trend: The most recently used app is the largest, while other apps show up as smaller cards to its left. Roughly four smaller cards take up the same space as the large one and they stack to make the best use of space. It looks like that in both landscape and portrait mode.

It otherwise functions like the normal overview screen. You can screenshot, select the text, engage in split-screen mode, etc. All of the tricks still work.

Android 12L Example Shot

Side-by-side quick settings and notification panel

Android 12L also employs a new look for the notification panel and quick settings menu. On regular phones, the two elements split horizontally; the quick settings take the upper half and the notifications take the lower half. In Android 12L, the split is vertical with them taking the left and right sides of the screen, respectively. The good news is the look and feel are the same as regular Android 12 so there are no weird surprises.

Also see: Every Android Easter egg and how to find it

In terms of usability, it’s fairly simple. Swiping down from the top opens both panels at once and swiping up dismisses them simultaneously. However, while open, each panel is independently controlled. Thus, you can swipe away a notification or expand the quick settings without bothering the other side. Rotating our emulator to portrait mode reverts it back to the standard horizontal split as you see on non-foldable phones.

Other potential changes

Android 12L activity embedding
Android 12L has a few other things hidden from view and some may even make it to phones at some point. This tweet shows a quick wallpaper picker that may or may not exist in the final version as an example. Also, improvements to things like activity embedding should result in smoother animations and a more responsive UI. You can see an example of that in the GIF above.

New features in Android 12L

Android 12L taskbar and split screen
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
The taskbar is now present on most screens for easy multi-tasking.
Android 12L is a bit light on new features. Again, we anticipate more as Android 12L betas continue to roll out, but let’s take a look at the ones we’ve seen so far.

Android 12L taskbar

It doesn’t seem like much, but the addition of a native taskbar to Android is a pretty big deal. We’ve seen something similar implemented on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 to great effect. Basically, Android 12L gives you a taskbar similar to a desktop OS like Windows or macOS. It’s there almost all the time and you can put shortcuts there.

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The taskbar is fairly innocuous to start. It sits along the bottom of the screen, where the launcher dock usually is, except it stays when you open apps, the quick settings, or notifications. It does persist in portrait mode as well. The emulator seems to limit the number of apps you can have on the taskbar to five. Hopefully, Google expands that over time.

Drag-and-drop split-screen

Android 12L split screen mode Example
Example of how Android 12L handles dragging and dropping apps into split-screen mode
The taskbar is also the key to the new drag-and-drop split-screen feature. It’s pretty easy to use. You open the first app you want and then drag an icon from the taskbar to the screen to enable split-screen mode. You can see an example of how this works in the GIF above. Once in split-screen mode, you can do the usual stuff like drag the divider to give one app more space.

Related: Android 12 redesign is the biggest revamp in years.

The limitations of the taskbar keep this from being a truly remarkable feature. As stated in the previous section, we hope Google lets us add more than five apps so we can truly use these new features to their fullest potential.

Adaptive UI

Android 12L adaptive UI screenshot
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Google didn’t talk a lot about Adaptive UI in its official Android 12L blog post. However, there is quite a bit more about it here. Developers have always been encouraged to make UIs that fit a wide variety of screens, and Android 12L expands this encouragement to include screens of varying sizes, shapes, and folding capabilities.

Other potential changes

For the time being, the above features are the only new ones we know about. The list seems short, but this is just a branch off of Android 12 and not really its own unique thing. We don’t expect a ton of other new features and for most of the development to focus on under the hood and design changes with the UI.

Under-the-hood changes for Android 12L

Android Studio Chipmunk resizeable emulator
As usual, under the hood is where the magic is. There are several new APIs, additions, and updates for developers to adapt their apps to Android 12L. The new changes affect how apps work on larger displays. Of course, this too should expand with new developer previews and betas.

Resizeable emulators

Google launched a new version of Android Studio, dubbed Android Studio Chipmunk. The new release includes an emulator that natively resizes the screen quickly so developers can adapt their work to Android 12L and larger displays in general. It’s not the most exciting thing from a consumer perspective, but it should help developers make better apps for a wider variety of screen sizes and types.

Improved compatibility mode

Android 12L compatibility mode screenshot
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Google is aware that many developers won’t optimize their apps. The updated compatibility mode helps with that. Android 12L boasts better stability and visual improvements so compatibility mode isn’t so jarring to use. It’s a minor thing, but it’s potentially important as there are a lot of old Android apps without support for foldables and larger displays.

Google Play Store changes

Google Play Store Download Pokemon Unite
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
The Google Play Store is also shifting to accommodate larger displays, well, slightly. People searching the Play Store on larger displays may see different results from those searching on a phone. The differences result from checks Google intends to start making against its large-screen app quality guidelines. You may also see screen-specific ratings that highlight how well the app works on larger devices versus just smartphones. Most of these changes should roll out in 2022.

Related: Google Play Store — a definitive guide for beginners

Other changes

There are some other, smaller changes as well. Google is now letting OEMs override screen orientation to ignore an app’s specific orientation and force it into portrait or landscape mode. App developers are also being asked to test for and improve camera previews, media projection, various screen sizes, multi-window mode support, taskbar interaction support, and split-screen mode support. Android 12L includes improvements and APIs to help with that as well.

More to look forward to in Android 12L

Android 12L release schedule
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
Android 12L is a unique OS update. While regular phones should get the update, almost everything above will be turned off or unused there. (Relax, though, they still have Android 12 and all of its features.) Instead, this release is specifically made for the quarter-billion large screen devices in use around the world.

Read more: With Android 12L, Google must lead by example

Google has released Android 12L for Pixel phones. Starting later this year, Android 12L will also be coming to tablets and foldables from Samsung, Lenovo, and Microsoft. We’ll update this article as new Android 12L stuff comes out. Let’s see how this all turns out.

Android 12L FAQs

Google has rolled out Android 12L to select Pixel phones.

It depends on your device. Google is launching Android 12L for nine Pixel devices in batches. They include:

Devices from Samsung, Lenovo, and Microsoft will also get Android 12L but we don’t have any concrete release dates yet. The Pixel 4 XL is a notable omission, though this could change.

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