With little fanfare, Google has dropped the first developer preview of Android 11. The release comes about three months ahead of the company’s annual Google IO developer conference, and gives us our first look at the next version of the operating system that powers most of the world’s smartphones.
Google says Android 11 includes “behavior changes to help improve performance, battery life, security, and privacy,” but the developer preview is still very much a work in progress and not intended for use on your daily driver smartphone — any apps that rely on SafetyNet approvals, for example, may not work.
The final release of Android 11 is scheduled to launch in the third quarter of 2020, but developers that want to start working with it now can download system images available for Google Pixel 2 and later, and you can read more about Android 11 at the Android Developers website and in Google’s blog post announcing the first preview release.
So what’s new in Android 11?
Here are some of the things Google spells out in its developer documentation and/or items discovered by folks who have already started kicking the tires of the developer preview:
New features (system-wide and user facing)
- There’s a dedicated conversation section in the notification shade.
- Users can insert images or other rich media into notification replies (if supported by the app).
- More OS features can be updated via the Google Play Store thanks to Project Mainline updates.
- You can set Android to automatically switch to dark theme at sunset or according to a timer (via Android Police)
- There are signs of an upcoming scrolling screenshot feature (via xda-developers).
- There’s a native screen recorder accessible from the Quick Settings Panel (via Ron Amadeo).
- Bluetooth remains active if you’re using wireless headphones when you toggle Airplane mode (via Android Police).
- You can pin up to four apps to the Android Share menu (via Android Police).
- There’s a new notification history page (via xda-developers).
- You may be able to access standalone Quick Settings or Notifications depending on which side of the screen you pull down on (via xda-developers).
- There’s experimental support for putting media player controls in the Quick Settings panel (via xda-developers).
New features (for developers)
- Native support for displays with “pinhole” or “waterfall”
- Apps can mute sounds and notifications only when the camera is active.
- Apps can use chat bubbles so that conversations are accessible when you’re in other apps. (This was a developer option in Android 10, but it’s graduated to a user-facing feature in Android 11).
- Apps can detect whether a data connection is unmetered in order to toggle high-resolution video or other higher quality content (to take advantage of 5G networks).
- There’s improved support for phones with “pinhole” camera cut-outs in the display or “waterfall screens.”
- Apps that request access to your device’s location, mic, or camera can be granted a temporary, one-time permission that will be revoked after an app is no longer visible.
- If a user denies a specific permission twice, Android 11 will treat that as “don’t ask again.”
- Apps that target Android 11 “cannot directly request all-the-time access to background location.”
There are also many more developer-centric features outlined at the Android Developers website, including changes to the way apps can access storage, API updates, and more.
Google’s Android 11 release timeline includes a second developer preview in March, and a third in April… followed by a series of beta releases set to launch starting in May.
The company is also introducing a new “Platform Stability” milestone timed to coincide with Android 11 Beta 2 in June — this means that the APIs should be nearly finalized, which should give developers time to fully test their apps before Android 11 is released to phone makers and the public later in the year.
Another fun fact — while Google has moved away from the “tasty treat” codenames associated with Android releases, the company is still using “Android 11” and “Android R” interchangeably in its documentation.
One not-so-fun fact? This is indeed the end of the line for the original Pixel smartphones. Google released the final security updates for the phones recently, and they’re the only Pixel phones excluded from the Android 11 developer preview.