Android 12.1 could be the next version of Android before Android 13
Google may have just spilled the beans on the next version of Android. The next version of Android may be a minor update over Android 12, set to be released in a few weeks. Traditionally, these minor version bumps have been called point updates, but Google hasn’t released a point update since Android 8.1 Oreo in 2017. If Google is indeed working on an Android 12.1 update, then it’s possible we’ll see it launch alongside the Pixel 6 series later this year.
Earlier today, the tech giant announced the fifth beta release of Android 12, the final beta before the stable update rolls out in a few weeks. Ahead of the release, developers are advised to update their apps to target API level 31, which is the framework API that Android 12 delivers. The API level corresponding to the previous Android release — Android 11 — was 30, while the API level before that was 29, which corresponded to Android 10. From the beginning, every new API level was accompanied by a bump in the Android version number, with the sole exception of API level 20, which corresponded to an exclusive version of Android 4.4 KitKat for wearables. Thus, if we find that Google has bumped the API level, it’s safe to assume there’s going to be a bump in the version number as well.
Naturally, our first assumption was that API level 32 will correspond to Android 13 Tiramisu, since, as we mentioned before, Google hasn’t released a point update in years. However, we’ve spotted some evidence within the AOSP Gerrit (H/T XDA Recognized Developer luca020400) that suggests API level 32 corresponds to Android 12 “sc-v2” and not Android 13 “T.” In a new code change, a Googler changes the API level that a new NDK API will be first made available in from 32 to 33. The reason, according to the discussion in the comments, is because “there are currently no planned NDK APIs in sc-v2-dev.” This suggests that API level 33 corresponds to Android 13 T, which is two API levels higher than the one corresponding to the upcoming Android 12 release (API level 31.)
It’s likely that the “sc” in “sc-v2” refers to “snow cone,” the rumored dessert code-name for Android 12. A few other code changes submitted to the AOSP Gerrit mention the sc-v2-dev branch, but none of them suggest that sc-v2-dev will carry a bump in the API level. However, with the new evidence we’ve seen today, it seems likely that Google will release an interim update between Android 12 and Android 13. Usually, these interim updates, or maintenance releases, are accompanied by a change in the user-visible version number, which is why we think it’s possible we’ll see an Android 12.1 point release. However, it’s also possible that this new API level won’t be accompanied by a new version number at all, or perhaps this new API level will correspond to a release targeting another form factor, like how API level 20 was exclusive to Android 4.4w.
Shortly after releasing a new phone, Google used to upload a bunch of new code to AOSP, which before the Pixel 3 and Android 9 Pie was usually marked as a new maintenance release and shipped to users as a point update. They’ve continued this practice since the Pixel 3, though they’ve stopped incrementing the version number and API level, perhaps to make it easier for OEMs and developers to keep up with version releases. We’re interested in learning why Google is bumping the API level so soon and what effect it’ll have on the platform and developers, though we suspect it won’t change the Play Store’s shifting targetSdkVersion requirement as Google only tracks each Android dessert release. In any case, we’ll have to wait until later this year to find out if Android 12.1 will actually be released.
There’s one sentence from the comments of this code change that we weren’t quite sure what to make of. One Googler states that “some of our Nest devices might not be migrated to T”, which is certainly an interesting thing to say, because as far as we know, the OS on Nest devices doesn’t match any modern Android release. Far from it, in fact: It seems that at least some older Nest devices used to run a very, very stripped-down version of Android 4.0, and Google is in the process of migrating first-gen Nest Hub devices from Cast OS over to its in-house Fuchsia OS. Thus, we aren’t really sure what to make of this sentence, but we thought it’d be worth pointing out anyway since it’s mentioned in the conversation.
This article’s title was changed to replace “instead of” to “before” to clear up confusion about the status of Android 13.