Android 12 “Snow Cone”: Everything we know so far about Google’s next big update, with changes from Beta 1!

Android 12 “Snow Cone”: Everything we know so far about Google’s next big update, with changes from Beta 1!

Android is the world’s most popular smartphone operating system, running on over 3 billion smartphones around the world. As a result, even the tiniest of changes in the OS has the potential to affect millions of users. But because of the way that Android updates are delivered, it’s debatable whether these changes actually make a difference. Despite that, we’re always looking forward to the next big Android update in hopes that it brings significant change. Speaking of which, Android 12 Beta 1 is now live, and it brings about many improvements. In case you missed our previous coverage, here’s every single thing we know about Android 12 so far!

Navigate this article:

Will Android 12 really be called “Snow Cone”?

Android 12 will be called…Android 12. Google ditched the dessert-themed names with Android 10. So what we get is just Android 12. Plain, simple, and easy to follow.

With that being said, Google continues to use dessert-themed names in its internal codebase. Android 10 was internally known as Quince Tart, Android 11 was Red Velvet Cake, and we now know that Android 12 is internally called Snow Cone.

When is Android 12 releasing?

Google has not confirmed the exact release date at the moment, but the company has shared a broad timeline for the upcoming Developer Previews, Beta, and Stable releases.

The Android 12 Developer Preview program will run from February 2021 until the final public release to AOSP and OEMs, planned for later in the year.

Android 12 Developer Preview

Android 12 has already made its first appearance via the first Developer Preview release, which started rolling out on February 18, 2021. Google has subsequently released a minor patch that addresses several bugs and issues that users have been experiencing while using the first Developer Preview build. Android 12 Developer Preview 2 went live on March 17, 2021, while Android 12 Developer Preview 3 went live on April 21, 2021.

As their name implies, the Android 12 Developer Previews will allow developers to begin platform migration and start the adaption process for their apps. Google is expected to detail most of the major platform changes in the previews to inform the entire Android ecosystem of what’s coming.

Developer Previews are largely unstable, and they are not intended for average users. Google also reserves the right to add or remove features at this stage, so do not be surprised if you see a feature in the first Developer Preview missing in the following releases. Developer Previews are also restricted to supported Google Pixel devices.

Android 12 Beta

After a couple of Developer Preview releases, we have made our way to Android 12 Beta releases, with the first one coming on May 18 this year as part of the Google I/O 2021 announcements. These Beta releases will be a bit more polished, and they will give us a fair idea of what the final OS release will look like. There may also be minor releases in between Betas, mainly to fix any critical bugs.

Alongside supported Google Pixel devices, Android 12 Beta 1 is also made available in the form of a GSI that can be flashed on a much wider range of devices. OEMs have also joined in on the party, and you can flash Beta 1 on the following phones:

The first Beta builds will be based off AOSP. OEMs will start migrating their UX skins to the Beta version of Android 12 and they will begin recruitments for their own “Preview” programs later on. Again, bugs are to be expected in these preview programs, and as such, they are recommended only for developers and advanced users.

Android 12 Beta with Platform Stability

After about three beta releases, Android 12 will achieve Platform Stability status co-existing alongside the Beta status. This is expected to happen in August this year. Platform Stability means that the Android 12 SDK, NDK APIs, app-facing surfaces, platform behaviors, and even restrictions on non-SDK interfaces have been finalized. There will be no further changes in terms of how Android 12 behaves or how APIs function in the betas that follow. At this point, developers can start updating their apps to target Android 12 (API Level 31) without being concerned about any unexpected changes breaking their app behavior.

Android 12 Release Candidate

After a Platform Stability build, we will get our Android 12 Release Candidate build. This build will be as close as possible to the stable build, but not completely the stable build. This build will essentially be aiming to catch any critical problems that have gone undetected so far, before the build begins rolling out to consumers. Google has not committed to a month of release for these builds, but we can expect one in September.

Android 12 Stable

After the Release Candidate builds, Google will roll out the first Android 12 stable release. This is expected to happen in September or possibly even later. As is the case, Google’s Pixel devices are expected to be the first to get Android 12 stable releases.

For non-Pixel phones, we expect to see wider public betas at this stage. The exact timeline for the same will depend upon your phone and its OEM’s plans. A good rule of thumb is that flagships will be prioritized for the update, so if you have a phone that is lower down the price range, you can expect to receive the update a few weeks or months down the line.

Will my device get Android 12?

The answer to the question “will my device get Android 12” largely depends on which device you have.

Google will officially provide the update to these devices:

These supported Google Pixel devices will get the Android 12 update on day one across the release cycle, barring any unexpected showstopper bugs.

The answer is fairly complicated for unsupported Google Pixel devices and non-Pixel devices. Unsupported Pixels will not get these updates from Google, but they should be in a position to install the GSI right at launch. A non-Pixel device is entirely at the discretion (read: mercy) of the OEM and how it exists within their product lineup. It’s logical to presume that lighter UX skins like ASUS’ Zen UI will be first in line to upgrade their flagships to an Android 12 base. In comparison, heavier UX skins like Samsung’s One UI and Xiaomi’s MIUI tend to take longer to rebase their skins. However, this isn’t always the case, as lighter UX skins have been equally slow at adoption, if not slower. Thus, predicting the Android 12 update timeline for non-Pixels is very difficult at this stage.

Where do I download Android 12 from?

For supported Google Pixel devices and for GSIs, Google provides official packages hosted on their website. You can find the latest download links for Android 12 in our dedicated article.

How to install Android 12?

We have installation instructions available for Android 12 for common installation routes such as Recovery, ADB, and Fastboot for the above-mentioned supported Pixel devices, and through GSI for all other unsupported Project Treble devices.

What’s new with Android 12?

Go ahead and grab something to eat, a snow cone perhaps, because there are a ton of changes, both big and small, that are coming with Android 12. All Android version bumps bring along major changes. While, changes over the past few years have been less radical than the sweeping changes in the early life of Android, which is a sign of the platform maturing over the years, Android 12 is an exception. This version of Android is being described as the biggest UX change for the OS since Android 5.0 Lollipop.

We’re focusing on all new changes that are coming with every Developer Preview and Beta release, and then highlighting the changes that we have seen in leaks and code commits, but we have not yet seen in live builds.

Information on previous Developer Previews. Click to expand section.

What’s new with Android 12 Developer Preview 1

You can find all of our Android 12 Developer Preview 1 coverage below:

What’s new with Android 12 Developer Preview 1.1

As mentioned earlier, Developer Preview 1.1 is more of a bugfix update. Apart from addressing a few bugs present in the initial release, there doesn’t seem to be any major changes in terms of functionality. The build also bumps up the Android security patch level. For further information, head on over to this article.

What’s new with Android 12 Developer Preview 2

You can find all of our Android 12 Developer Preview 2 coverage below:

What’s new with Android 12 Developer Preview 2.1

Android 12 Developer Preview 2.1 is another bugfix update. Apart from addressing a few bugs present in the initial release, there doesn’t seem to be any major changes in terms of functionality. For further information, head on over to this article.

What’s new with Android 12 Developer Preview 2.2

Android 12 Developer Preview 2.2 is another bugfix update. There doesn’t seem to be any major changes in terms of functionality. For further information, head on over to this article.

What’s new with Android 12 Leaked Developer Build

We got our hands on a leaked build that is newer than Developer Preview 2.2 but was unreleased. You can read all about the new changes in this build in our dedicated coverage of the upcoming features spotted in the leaked build.

What’s new with Android 12 Developer Preview 3

You can find all of our Android 12 Developer Preview 3 coverage below:

What’s new with Android 12 Beta 1: All the announced features

Android 12 Beta 1 is the latest Android release from Google, and it is a closer representation of what we can expect to see from the next version of Android as compared to the previous Developer Previews.

Google’s official announcement is scant on the exact details, but we’ve seen far, far too much at this stage. Fun fact: Google even had an inside joke on XDA’s Editor-in-Chief Mishaal Rahman chancing upon a leaked Android 12 build and discovering a lot more than Google had intended to reveal at that time.

Android 12 Beta 1 Hands-on: A Radical Redesign comes to Android

Material You

Material You is one of the biggest changes on Android 12. Leaked in the past as Material NEXT, Material You is the next iteration of Material Design. This design language is not going to be restricted to Android and will be seen across a wider variety of Google services. But for Android, this forms one of the bigger visual overhauls that the OS has seen in several years. There’s a lot of focus on color and customization, allowing users to choose their own color swatches, contrast, element sizes, line widths, and more.

Android12 Material You Collage

Wallpaper-based UX Theming

Going hand-in-hand with Material You is the new wallpaper-based UX theming engine in Android 12. This feature was leaked previously as “monet”, and it is a culmination of the years of work on OMS and RRO on the Android platform.

android 12 monet wallpaper based theme

Android 12 now automatically chooses a set of correlative color palettes across the system UI based on the colors used in the phone’s current wallpaper. The colors will apply uniformly across elements such as the lockscreen, quick settings, notifications panel, and even the newly-added adaptive widgets

android 12 monet wallpaper based theme

Google says that the color extraction system uses a clustering algorithm with Material color targets to determine the dominant and less dominant colors and then applies hues that match your wallpaper. A rich palette of 5 colors — 2 neutral and 3 accent colors — and 12 shades of Material color can be used to determine the closest hues to the user’s wallpaper. Apps can then grab Android’s system color from an index into the color palette and use it in many different, subtle ways. Widgets can even use the color extraction feature to harmonize with the user’s theme on the home screen.

The feature is not currently readily available to end-users, but you can enable it with some fiddling around as it is present within the build.

Privacy Dashboard

Google is refocusing on Privacy with Android 12’s Privacy Dashboard and other related changes. The Privacy Dashboard will show you a timeline of when apps access your phone’s camera, microphone, or device location. Android 12 will also include new indicators to show when your phone’s camera or microphone is in use.

Privacy Dashboard in Android 12

New Privacy Dashboard in Android 12

For apps that require location apps, Android 12 will also offer a new setting that will let you share your approximate location with the app instead of your precise location. This setting will show up within the location permission pop-up that you’re probably already familiar with.

New visual indicators for camera and microphone in Android 12

New visual indicators for camera and microphone in Android 12

Android 12 will include new toggles in the Quick Settings to help you quickly disable camera and microphone access for all apps with a simple tap. These toggles will initially be limited to Pixel devices, but they’ll make their way to other phones soon.

New quick settings toggles for camera and microphone access in Android 12

New quick settings toggles for camera and microphone access in Android 12

Private Compute Core

Android 12 will also feature a Private Compute Core that will keep your information private for several AI-driven features, like Live Caption, Now Playing and Smart Reply. The Private Compute Core will be a safe partition within the operating system, similar to the ones used for password and biometric data, for these machine learning features. Having a separate partition for the data will make it easier for the operating system to keep it safe, while still keeping it available for system-level functions. This means that sensitive audio and language processing for the features mentioned above will happen exclusively on your device.

App Hibernation

Android 12 also introduces a new feature called App Hibernation. App hibernation allows you to put apps into a “hibernation” state if they’re not actively being used. Apps that are put into a hibernated status will optimize their storage usage, and their permissions will be revoked.

Apps that are not used for several months will be put into this “hibernation” state, although users can quickly toggle this feature on and off if they don’t want their unused apps to go into hibernation. To get an app out of hibernation, you just need to run it normally.

Unlock your car from your phone

Google announced that it is partnering with several smartphone companies to establish an industry-wide standard that will help you unlock your car using your phone.

android 12 car key app

One of the ways the car key feature in Android 12 works is through NFC, and you can simply tap your smartphone on the car’s door to unlock it. For phones that UWB, like the Samsung Galaxy S21 series, you will be able to unlock the car without taking your phone out of your pocket. The feature will also allow users to share these virtual car keys with friends and family members when they borrow the vehicle.

Smoother Audio Transitions

Android 12 will introduce smoother audio transitions between apps. When an app loses audio focus, its audio is automatically faded out, providing a smoother transition between apps that play audio, and preventing apps from playing over each other. This is particularly relevant in foldable and multi-screen Android environments.

What’s new with Android 12 Beta 1: Unannounced changes

In addition to the main announcement, several other changes have also been spotted. These are either on Beta 1 or are introduced publicly to the platform with Beta 1.

Widgets Overhaul

Google is finally overhauling widgets on Android by reworking the Widgets API to enhance the user experience across different platforms, Android skins, and launchers. We now see a consistent spread of the Google Sans font, flat icons, and cohesive color palettes, all of which together give widgets a more modern look.

Android 12 widgets

Widgets in Android 12 get new dynamic controls allowing you to interact with checkboxes, radio buttons, and switches without entering an app. The widget picker will now also offer responsive previews for widgets of different sizes. The new API also adds support dynamic coloring as part of the Material You theming engine, allowing widgets to adapt to the wallpaper, like other visual elements.

Clipboard Access alerts

Google is introducing a setting in Android 12 to show a popup every time an app accesses your clipboard — even if it’s in the foreground.

Screenshot of Android with a popup that reads "

AV1 Codec for Video Recording

Google has long recommended the use of the royalty-free AV1 codec for video encoding, but few hardware products support hardware acceleration for encoding in AV1. On the other hand, there’s H.265/HEVC, a video codec that isn’t royalty-free but which most high-end Android devices released in the past few years support encoding in with hardware acceleration. Compared to H.264/AVC, ie. the video codec that most camera apps on Android smartphones record in by default, Google says that H.265/HEVC can record videos at the same quality but with half the bitrate, resulting in significant file size reductions.

Beginning with Android 12, Google says that more OEMs will adopt HEVC as the default format for video capture. By making HEVC the default video capture format, users can reduce how much space video recordings take up on local or cloud storage. Furthermore, smaller file sizes will reduce upload times on social media and other platforms where users can upload videos.

Location-free Bluetooth Scanning

Before Android 12, the ability to scan for nearby Bluetooth or Wi-Fi devices were tied to Android’s broader “location” permission. The reason this was the case makes sense: You can definitely track a device by inferring what Bluetooth devices or Wi-Fi networks are nearby or are currently connected. So even if an app just scans for Bluetooth devices and doesn’t utilize GPS or other tracking technologies, it still needed the same Location permission nonetheless.

Now in Android 12, Google has added new dedicated Bluetooth permissions distinct from the location permissions that apps can request. After being granted these permissions, an app can scan for nearby devices without needing the location permission. Only apps targeting Android 12 can declare these permissions, however.

Updates from Alternative App Stores

In response to mounting pressure from Epic Games and government regulators, Google had promised to make changes in Android 12 that would make it easier for people to use other app stores on their devices without compromising safety measures.

With Android 12, Google is making it easier for alternate app stores to provide a good experience on devices. Google has updated Android’s PackageInstaller.SessionParams class with a new method called setRequireUserAction. This method indicates whether or not user action should be required before an app install is allowed. It defaults to true for any app that holds the REQUEST_INSTALL_PACKAGES permission, which is required for any app before they can initiate an install session to sideload an app outside of Google Play or whatever preinstalled app store is on the device.

Shortcuts API for Google Assistant

App Shortcuts have been part of Android for a while, allowing users to surface some popular actions when they hold down an app icon. With Android 12, Google is introducing new APIs for Shortcuts that will allow users to find all the Google Assistant queries that are supported with apps. If a developer builds an Android Shortcut, it will automatically show up in the Assistant Shortcuts gallery, so users can choose to set up a personal voice command in your app, when they say ‘Hey Google, shortcuts’.” Google is also introducing a new variation of Android shortcuts, called dynamic shortcuts, designed specifically for Google Assistant.

Bluetooth LE Audio API

Android 12 is adding in an API for Bluetooth LE Audio, which is a significant announcement that will greatly enhance the end-user experience when using Bluetooth earphones and other audio devices. While Bluetooth LE Audio’s new LC3 codec will not do much to improve audio quality per se, it will help with improving battery life and signal robustness. This will translate into a better user experience for a large majority of users.

Features leaked but not yet live in Android 12

We already had a fair idea of what to expect with Android 12 even before Android 12 Developer Preview 1 made its way into our hands. But OS development is a complex cycle, and what is often leaked may or may not make it back into the release. We are still in the beta days of Android 12, so there’s a chance that a fair few of these leaked changes make their way into the stable release eventually — or they may not, it can go both ways.

Anti-tracking Features

While this feature has not been revealed in a leak, Google did express an intention to build a “less stringent” version of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature. Google is looking to balance privacy with an ad-supported ecosystem. Hence, Google’s version of the feature will likely be less strict and may not require developers to get permission from users to track their data.

The approach that Google could take for Android may be similar to the one planned for the Chrome web browser. Google previously announced plans to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome within two years. Instead, the browser will use an alternative that allows some ad targeting with less specific data collection. Advertisers will be able to target groups of people with similar interests, but not individuals.

Android’s Runtime Resource Overlay (RRO) Improvements

Android’s Runtime Resource Overlay (RRO) feature is getting a major upgrade. RROs have traditionally been APK packages that need to be installed on the device before they can be activated, but Android 12 should be able to generate non-APK RROs on-the-fly. It’ll be interesting to see how this is used, but we’re guessing that this will open up the ability to generate lots of custom themes that don’t need to be installed as system-level apps. Currently, most theme packages that use the RRO/OMS API are installed as static packages in read-only partitions. Generating RRO packages on-the-fly could be what makes Android 12’s new “monet” theming system (mentioned above) a possibility.

Letterbox Feature

We are seeing mentions of a “letterbox” feature that Google is experimenting with. These “letterboxes” seem to be a new way to put apps into a frame/window, and they will have adjustable rounded corners and configurable background color. We are not entirely sure what this will be used for, though.

Restricted Networking Mode

Google was spotted working on a new restricted networking mode feature for Android 12, though it may not be the system-level firewall that you’re probably wishing it to be.

When this new restricted networking mode is turned on, only apps that hold the CONNECTIVITY_USE_RESTRICTED_NETWORKS permission will be allowed to use the network. Since this permission can only be granted to privileged system applications and/or applications signed by the OEM, network access will be blocked for all applications installed by the user. Effectively, this means that you’ll still receive push notifications from apps using Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), as these notifications are routed through the privileged Google Play Services app that holds the requisite permission. Still, no other app — excluding a handful of other system apps — can send or receive data in the background.

There’s no indication that Google will be opening up the feature to let users make their own allowlist or blocklist of apps.

API for connected Bluetooth controllers

Google is also merging a new Bluetooth API into Android 12 that will let games detect the battery level of connected Bluetooth controllers. This will let the game inform you when your controller is about to die, giving you time to find a place to pause and then recharge your controller.

Game Controller Rumble Support

Android right now provides only minimal support for vibrating connected input devices, restricting them to on and off, and with no way to control the amplitude of vibrations or generate custom vibration effects. But this could change with Android 12, as improvements to input device rumble support are on the cards. Code submitted to AOSP adds in support for amplitude control and paves the way for generating custom vibration effects.

However, keep in mind that these commits have not been merged. So they might not make it in time for the final Android 12 release.

Decoupled Emojis

Android 12 will fix one of the more minor annoyances in Android. Whenever Unicode gets new emojis, we need to wait for an OS update to reach our phones before we can actually make them a part of our Internet lingo. Google is making it easier to receive new emojis by decoupling them from Android system updates. This means that new emojis can be added to phones by simply pushing an updated font file instead of requiring a full system update just for this change.

The commits for this change have been merged way ahead of the stable release, so this feature is likely to come with Android 12.

Ultra-Wideband API

Samsung was the first Android OEM to incorporate Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology to aid in precise indoor positioning of smart home devices and high-speed peer-to-peer data transmission. Xiaomi also planned to get onboard with UWB, and we can surely expect many other Android OEMs to also jump on board. To deal with this new technology, Google added an API to AOSP to support UWB.

The Galaxy S21+ and Galaxy S21 Ultra support ultra-wideband for finding and unlocking select cars.

The API has been added in time for inclusion into Android 12, but it remains to be seen if it actually does get incorporated. Keep in mind that the UWB APIs are marked as SystemAPIs right now, so they will not be accessible to third-party apps, though we aren’t sure why this restriction is in place.

“Install Hints” to speed up the installation of important apps on new Android phones

Migrating to a new Android phone is a pain that has only been marginally relieved in all these years. Google was spotted working on “install hints” as a feature to let app stores decide which compiler filter to use when bulk installing new apps, making it quicker to set up a new phone. This feature is primarily intended for the app store, namely Google Play Store in this context, which will get the ability to prioritize the most-used apps from the older device and install them quicker on the new phone.

WireGuard VPN support in the Linux kernel

WireGuard is a next-gen VPN protocol that features modern cryptography standards and has a secure, auditable code base. After its inclusion in Linux Kernel 5.6, Google has added support for the protocol to Android 12’s Linux Kernel 4.19 and Linux Kernel 5.4 tree. This means that kernel acceleration for WireGuard will be supported in Android 12 on devices with Linux Kernel 4.19 and 5.4. However, it remains to be seen whether Google will add APIs to interface with the kernel module.

Automatically Translate Apps to Native Language

This is one of the more exciting changes that we spotted in the Android 12 leaked build between the Developer Preview 2 and Developer Preview 3. This leaked build contains many clues towards a feature that we presume would automatically translate apps to native languages. Piecing these clues together, we believe that the feature will aim to directly translate text within the UI of the app, replacing the text in-line to make the translation feel more native.

This feature would massively benefit users and developers alike. Users of less popularly used languages are more likely to encounter apps that are missing the requisite translation, so a feature like this would make the app usable for these users. Similarly, developers who do not have the resource to translate their app across multiple languages can now rely on the OS to provide machine translation. While the result will be imperfect, it would still be better than no translation.

Let user’s manage hidden Recycle Bin

The leaked Android 12 build also offers hints that Google could be surfacing Android’s hidden Recycle Bin feature. Apps that make use of the MediaStore API can make use of the trashing feature added to the API with Android 11. Trashing is similar in concept to the famous Windows “Recycle Bin”, where the files are removed from view but can still be recovered for a certain period of time before they get deleted permanently. Android 11 lacked a system-wide view of this Trash Bin though, but clues suggest that apps with edit access to trashed files or apps that request user consent can show items from the hidden recycle bin. Google is working to add a new entry to Settings > Storage to show how much storage space all trashed items take up. Tapping this entry will launch a fragment that shows the number of files that have been trashed and also lets the user empty the trash, but the entry point is normally inaccessible since Google hardcoded it to false. Although users can empty the trash from here, we don’t know if users will also be able to restore them through this entry point. The feature may also be coming to File by Google.

What are your thoughts on Android 12? What features are you most excited about, and what would you like to see other than the features mentioned above? Let us know in the comments below!

About author

Aamir Siddiqui
Aamir Siddiqui

I am a tech journalist with XDA since 2015, while being a qualified business-litigation lawyer with experience in the field. A low-end smartphone purchase in 2011 brought me to the forums, and it's been a journey filled with custom ROMs ever since. When not fully dipped in smartphone news, I love traveling to places just to capture pictures of the sun setting. You can reach out to me at [email protected]