Here are the changes Android 12L will bring to your smartphone

Here are the changes Android 12L will bring to your smartphone

Google first revealed Android 12L in October, and unlike most Android updates, it’s focusing almost exclusively on devices with large screens. Tablets, foldables, and Chromebooks are where most of the exciting changes will arrive, but that doesn’t mean normal smartphones are completely left out of the fun. Now we have a better idea about which changes will show up on all Android devices.

Google already mentioned a few new features and API changes coming to all devices as part of the Android 12L update, including a new “quick wallpaper picker” option in the AOSP Launcher, Nearby calling for Pixel and Nest devices, the return of volume controls for Casting, dynamic theme support in AOSP, and Material You colors in the boot animation.

A few other changes have been now been highlighted by Esper. Starting with Android 12L, device manufacturers will be able to override the preferred orientations requested by applications, which will benefit foldables the most (e.g. your Galaxy Fold 3 won’t flip sideways when opening portrait-only apps) but might also be used in other form factors.

Google is also implementing a new Audio Spatializer API, intended to unify all the different implementations of spatial audio support (currently found in Sony phones, among others), so apps can easily determine if the current device supports spatial audio. Android 12L also supports full screen-to-head tracking, so if you have headphones with their own accelerometer and gyroscope, they can report your current head position to Android for more immersive audio. Three head tracking modes will be supported: static (no head tracking), world-relative (no screen tracking), and screen-relative (full screen-to-head tracking).

An even bigger change is one that will likely be used on the Google Pixel 6 series that was recently launched. Currently, the VoiceInteractionSession API can get information about what app is currently running on-device, and part of how it can understand what’s on the screen is by taking a screenshot and then analyzing that screenshot through OCR. However, two new callbacks are being added in Android 12L — registerVisibleActivityCallback and unregisterVisibleActivityCallback.

The first of these two callbacks allows the assistant app to register a callback in order to be notified of a change in the visible activity, while the second simply unregisters the callback. In essence, this will let the assistant app track the user’s journey through apps to provide more powerful suggestions and a more integrated experience. Esper believes that the “new” Google Assistant that powers Pixel devices from the Pixel 4 and up will make use of this capability extensively.

Finally, Google also has un-deprecated two different APIs for external storage access in Android 12L. In Android 10, Google introduced the controversial Scoped Storage framework. This was intended to block most applications from accessing data outside their own folders and certain shared directories (like the Downloads and Pictures folders). Google then deprecated two widely-used external storage APIs at the same time: getExternalStorageDirectory() (used for accessing the primary external storage) and getExternalStoragePublicDirectory() (for accessing the storage directory for specific types). Google is now un-deprecating both of these APIs. This comes following the changes in Android 11 that allowed read access to most external storage. To be clear, apps still can’t read or write content created by other apps in public directories (like files saved by Chrome in the Downloads folder) without enhanced permissions.

We’ll likely know more about all the API and cross-device changes in Android 12L after the next beta release, which is currently scheduled for next month.


This article was written with additional input from Adam Conway

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Corbin Davenport
Corbin Davenport

Corbin is a tech journalist and software developer based in Raleigh, North Carolina. He's also the host of the Tech Tales podcast, which explores the history of the technology industry. Follow him on Twitter at @corbindavenport.