On February 9, Google released the Android 12L Developer Preview #3, which should be released in March for a final version. On February 10, Google also releasing the Android 13 Developer Preview #1, which will hit devices sometime in the second half of the year. We now have Android developer previews for the next version of Android – and the version after that.
So what’s new in Android 13? A few leaks already have more granular Material You color options, a new user sign-up system (both unconfirmed), and general language preferences (confirmed now!). Here are some of the more interesting tidbits that Google is willing to disclose at this early stage.
Themed icons make it to beta
Android 12 included a “beta” option for “themed icons,” which turned some of Google’s icon art into black and white and gave icons a circular background to match your Material You theme. The option took all the colors out of an icon and reduced it to its shape.
However, we have never seen a fully working implementation of theme icons. Developers — if they’re even willing to make themed icons — haven’t been able to make them. The original themed icons in Android 12 were: hard coded, and Google has never published any documentation for the “beta” feature. For Android 13, developers now just need to provide “a monochromatic app icon and an adaptive icon XML customization” and they’ll get started with a themed icon.
It’s still hard to tell if any of these “themed icon” things are a good idea. Nuking Google’s icon colors isn’t a big loss, as the latest rebranding gives them all the same rainbow color anyway. For third-party icons, which often have different, recognizable colors, doesn’t this make everything harder to find? It’s also unclear how the icons will work in the real world.
Google got the idea for themed icons from the modding community’s icon packs. But in an icon pack, a single designer creates a lot of icons and a single user applies them. Google’s rollout of themed icons won’t work unless every developer in the world makes a themed icon, and it’s hard to see that happening. The modding community also doesn’t care about a company’s branding priorities and just wants everything to match, while I can’t imagine Facebook adopting a Facebook icon that isn’t blue.
Share photos without the storage permission
Android 13 has a new built-in photo picker, replacing the file manager that used to pop up for choosing photos. The goal here isn’t for the photo browser to look or work differently from the file manager; instead, you can send an app a single photo without giving that app access to the storage permission. Google explains that “Android’s long-standing Document Browser allows a user to share specific documents of any type with an app without requiring that app to view all media files on the device. The Photo Browser extends this capability with a dedicated experience for choosing photos and videos.”
An app that doesn’t have storage access can invoke the System Document Selector (which has storage access) and the chooser can redirect access to the single file you selected. It sounds like the photo picker will provide the same for photos. Google says this feature requires new “photo chooser APIs”, which an app should support. I imagine this system is great for things like messaging apps that want to share a photo or an app that just needs a profile icon.
Interestingly, Google plans to roll out this feature to older Android versions via a Project Mainline update. Project Mainline (or “Google Play System Updates”, as they’ve been renamed) is a large Android project that allows the core operating system components to be updated through the Play Store, even if they require deep system permissions that make them unsuitable for the app permissions model. MediaProvidor was added as a Mainline module in Android 11 and Google wants to update it with the new Photo Chooser, a system-level interface.
Speaking of everyone’s favorite Android modularity project, Google promises that there will be more Project Mainline modules in Android 13, including modules for Bluetooth and Ultra broadband. Bluetooth is a notoriously messy standard, and devices of vastly different ages and versions all need to talk to each other. It would be nice to be able to connect this awful standard together via the Play Store. The Android team is presumably still working on a major Bluetooth refurbishment codenamed “Gabeldorsche”, which has still not hit the streets. Being able to update that remotely, if it ever ships, would be nice too.