The first Android 12 developer preview hit the streets on Thursday and we played with it for a day. There’s not much to see in this release – at least not in the beginning. Most of the interesting bits are hidden and the developer community is slowly making them happen. Many changes are half-finished alpha tweaks that will look different in the final release; After all, Google says these releases are for “testing and feedback.”
This first release of Android 12 is meant to bring some APIs and other changes to people for feedback, but it’s also designed not to say too much about what the final build of Android 12 will look like. With that in mind, many of the features in a previous Android 12 leak seem right on the money. This public release is a sanitized build with a lot of things disabled, but the more we turn on hidden flags and catch hints in the documentation, the more this build looks like a solid halfway point between Android 11 and those leaked Android 12 screenshots.
The notification panel
Google can never let an Android release go by without some changes to the notifications, and this year it looks like we’re getting a fresh design and a few other tweaks. Like everything else in the preview, we’re only getting a half-finished look at things here.
There are many color changes. In the send sample code, the notification shade chooses a background color that has a strong blue tint compared to the pure white of Android 11. The disabled quick settings buttons are now also blue instead of gray. When you turn on dark mode, you get a notification panel that is dark gray instead of black. It’s suspicious that all the colors are similar in this build a little otherwise, and the Android 12 leak we saw earlier hinted at fully customizable colors for everything (probably based on the background). All the color changes we’re seeing right now could be slightly odd defaults changed before release. After all, changing colors should now be very easy.
As for other changes, app icons in the notification shade look different; they are usually completely white icons in a colored circle. I think they now use the same artwork as the status bar icons, which would add a fair bit of consistency.
There are new settings for the persistent media player notification introduced in Android 11. If you dive into the settings, it looks like you can now ban individual apps from appearing in the persistent media player. There is a section called “Allowed apps” and some checkboxes; they just don’t seem to be doing anything right now.
The ugly black bar at the top of the notification panel has been removed and the background panel is more transparent. We hope Google changes this before the final release, as the panel is currently so transparent that it’s easy to confuse background app images with the notification shade. Some have speculated that we are missing a background blur. A new “RenderEffect” API actually makes it easy blur elements.
If you look at Google’s developer docs, you’ll see a different notification design with more rounded corners, which ties in well with the leak.
The “Silky Home” settings
Many of the interesting features of Android 11 are hidden things that we are not yet allowed to see. One of these nice additions is a hidden “Silky Home” flag for the settings, which was found by Android Authority’s Joe Hindu and XDAs Mishal Rahman. The feature flag makes the settings work just like they would on a Samsung phone, with a large header at the top of each frame pushing the top of the frame down so it’s easier to reach if you’re using the phone with one hand. We praised this feature when it debuted on Samsung phones, and it’s a good feature here too. Hopefully this will become the predominant list style on Android. It’s something else that ties into the earlier Android 12 leak.
However, much of the release still seems broken. The Settings main page doesn’t have a heading that says “Settings,” so instead of an actual title, the Silky Home flag seems to be blowing up the first bit of text it can grab. In this case, you get a huge “Explore Pixel Tips”, which is normally part of a rotating carousel of suggested settings. The actual settings list gets a ton of whitespace, and each entry loses all descriptive subtext, making settings harder to find.
There are now three new sections. “Apps & Notifications” is divided into “Apps” and “Notifications”, and new “Styles & Wallpapers” and “Security & Emergency” sections appear. Styles and Wallpapers simply activates the existing home screen settings, where you can choose from wallpapers, icon shapes, and icon grid layout. Many users probably have a problem finding this page the normal way – long-pressing an empty part of the home screen – so this seems like a good idea. The “Safety & Emergency” section, which is also available without the Silky Home flag, just appears to be the Pixel’s Personal Safety app.
The order of the settings list has been rearranged and it appears that the list is divided into logical sections with white space. It really feels like the sections need to get headings like they had in older versions of Android. Network and connected devices looks like the ‘connectivity’ section. Apps, notifications, and digital wellbeing are all app-related. The battery storage, sound, and display group looks like the “Hardware” section, etc.
Here’s Android 12’s one-handed mode – fully working. Unfortunately, it’s similar to Apple’s Reachability (reduce vertically) rather than OHM on most OEM software (both horizontally and vertically shrink). pic.twitter.com/IznRVHTgPu
— Mishaal Rahman (@MishaalRahman) February 18, 2021
It’s not just institutions that prioritize accessibility. Rahman also found a hidden one-handed mode that seems to work the same way it does in iOS. Once this feature is enabled, a swipe down on the motion area will cause the top of the screen to pop down, giving you better access to the controls.
Rahman also found another secret feature that turns a downward swipe into a system-wide way to open the notification shade, another feature that prevents users from reaching all the way to the top of the screen. At this point, it looks like you’ll have to choose the simple notification opening or the one-handed mode as both functions use the same gesture.
That’s about it for the big changes. It seems that Google is trying to save most of the big stuff for whatever form Google I/O takes later this year. As usual, there’s an officially published timeline of promising releases from here through at least August.