The final version of Android 12 should be out sometime in September, but the developer’s first preview is now expected every day. Our first hint of what Google’s new release has in store comes from Mishaal Rahman of XDA Developers, who has some photos of what appears to be a major UI overhaul for Android 12. According to the report, these images represent mockups, not screenshots. from Android 12. The mockups appear in a document describing the new features of Android 12, and the document will be passed on to partners as a warning before the public rollout.
The first thing that strikes me is the strange sepia-toned color scheme, as if someone has turned on night mode permanently. This color scheme seems like a huge change from Android 11’s all-white color scheme, but it’s probably entirely up to the user. A recent report from 9to5Google claimed that Google would be launching an in-depth theming system in Android 12 that would allow the system and third-party apps to recolor themselves based on a user’s preferences. A line from the report says, “Interestingly, your Android 12 theme colors should also be able to choose automatically based on your current wallpaper. When you change your wallpaper, Android should be able to seamlessly switch to new colors similar to the color of your background. palette.”
It seems that’s what’s going on here. The UI colors go really well with the wallpaper because they probably are from the wallpaper. A beige-colored background leads to a beige-colored notification panel, icons, settings, widgets and more. Even the camera app goes beige. Android has had unused code for a theme engine for a long time. Automatic UI color selection was launched all the way back in Android 5 with the Palette API, when Google started with the idea of using it for a music app. Looks like these things are finally being put to use.
Even ignoring the colors, the notification shade is still quite different, which is completely off-brand for Android as the notification shade is refreshed with each release. At the top, the weird black status bar is gone, replaced by a single sheet that serves as the notification background. It’s not transparent here, but that could just be a mockup inaccuracy. The time and date have switched places, with the date now at the top. The quick settings are no longer boxed, and they’ve been reduced to four instead of six (boo!). The Quick Settings shapes were configurable in the past, but now it seems like there’s a mix of shapes, with disabled settings having a square background and enabled settings getting a circle.
The rest of the notification shade doesn’t look much different than the rounder rounded corners. A quirk in this mockup is the visible rounded corners. This was equally real during the Android 10 developer preview, but never made it to a final release. I think it’s just a mockup inaccuracy. Other mockups even show a circular front camera cutout in the UI, which normally doesn’t show up on screenshots.
Many of the mockups describe the return of the privacy chip notification in the top-right corner of the status bar, which notifies you when an app is pinging its camera, microphone, or location permissions. We first saw this feature in pre-release versions of Android 10, all the way back in 2019, but it never made it to a final release. The idea then was that these warnings would appear when an app was actively using sensitive permissions, and tapping the chip would identify the app. A mockup shows what the popup UI would look like; it not only identifies apps that are currently using the camera, microphone, or location, but also apps that have “recently” used the permission. Each line in the privacy popup has a settings cog next to it, which presumably allows you to block settings for that individual app.
There’s also a new ‘Privacy’ settings screen, which gives you a system-wide kill switch for the camera, microphone and location. None of these switches are new, but you now get an easy, more obvious access to them. This privacy screen also seems to show a new design for the settings. In addition to the new color scheme, it seems that Google is chasing Samsung and some other Android OEMs when designing settings screens with accessibility in mind. There’s a huge “Privacy” banner at the top, with lots of white space above it, pushing the start of the list down from the top of the phone. Most good implementations of this feature shrink the top banner once you start scrolling.
The last new item in the mockups is a “conversations” widget. This appears to show a person or group chat and recent messages or calls from that person. It seems to combine messages from multiple apps into a single widget, which would be possible through the existing notification APIs. Incoming notifications are already associated with a contact for priority messages, so merging all those messages under a single person widget would work just fine. It’s strange that the mockups show the conversation widget in different forms.
They all look like different states of the conversation widget, but some are rounded rectangles and some are shaped like a pill. Why? More love for widgets in Android 12 is a good bet after the feature was finally copied by Apple in iOS 14. Android launched with widgets in version 1, but those have been neglected over the years. If Google wants to copy Apple back, iOS now allows you to stack and scroll through widgets, which would be nice to see in Android. Apple’s widgets are also generally more modern and cohesive, having just launched. Android’s widgets could really use a general overhaul.
The first Android 11 Developer Preview was launched on February 19 last year, so we’re likely to see working Android 12 builds this month.