Android 12 Beta 2 came out this week, and with it we have a lot of features that we can only see screenshots of right now work† This includes Android’s ambitious color-changing UI codenamed “Monet”, and while this is just a beta, after some practical time it feels like Android 12’s chameleon-like UI already lives up to the hype.
Monet — or “Material You,” as Google wants us to call it now — effortlessly recolors your phone’s UI with a matching theme based on your wallpaper. Choose a background that is mainly blue and Android 12 will change the buttons, sliders, clock, notifications and background settings to matching shades. This arrangement sounds like something that couldn’t possibly work outside of a technical demo on stage, but the code is out now, and it real to work. I spent the last day trying maliciously until break itand Android 12 reliably turns into beautiful color schemes with no contrast issues.
Google has been working on wallpaper-defined color schemes for some time, starting in Android 5.0 Lollipop and the “Palette” API in 2014. Monet represents a second generation of the idea, and while Android 5’s Palette API was barely used, Google feels now confident enough with the idea of using it basically everywhere. Basically, every part of the Android 12 system’s user interface, except for the permanent black Quick Settings background, is subject to the system-wide color coordinator.
For the UI of the system, a rough explanation of how this works is that Android 12 samples a single hue from your background and then generates a few colors by adjusting brightness and saturation. Pick a greenish background and you’ll get a bright green, a dark green, a desaturated green, and an almost white-green that spreads across most of the UI completely automatically. The media player notification lives on its own with regard to these color selections, and it picks a wild complementary color that is somehow based on your background.
If we are to believe the slides at Google I/O, Monet should be even better by the time the release starts. One slide showed a wallpaper picker displaying multiple flavors of color selections made from your wallpaper. So by the time the launch rolls around, it sounds like Google wants you to push the color selection in a certain direction. As a bugged beta, Monet sometimes picks one color scheme from a background when you first apply it. Then it will switch to a different color scheme when you reboot, indicating that there is room for variation here, just no controls yet.
Right now, the worst thing you can say about Monet is that it might not pick the accent color you want or expect. If you were into something like a mostly black and white image with a dramatic red highlight somewhere, then you might want a red accent color to tie it all together. But Monet may not pick the color you want. Those controls, assuming they actually ship, sound exactly like what the system needs right now.
In Beta 2, Monet only works on the lock screen, system UI, home screen, and settings. But at I/O, Google demonstrated a color-changing calculator, a phone app, and a messaging app, which it hopes will be built. (How can Google resist the messaging app!) The new widgets, which are still not out, will also take over the color scheme of your choice on the home screen. Since we can’t change color on the home screen just yet, the new lock screen — which displays a huge clock when you’re out of notifications — is Monet’s best demo in action.
If app developers want to let Monet take the wheel with their designs, Android 12 gives them several color variables to place in their code, which are swapped when the background changes. Developers get three “Accent” colors and two “Neutral” colors that are chosen by the system based on the background. In addition, they can choose a lightness value for each color.
Sometimes Monet knocks your socks off with a dramatic and beautiful color selection. That makes it downright addictive to dig through a wallpaper collection to see what Android will do for each image. “Wallpaper of the Day” apps now mean you get a whole new OS color scheme every day! Even in beta, Android 12’s new UI feels exciting and fresh, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this color-changing UI idea has been copied by other OS vendors within a few years.
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