The biggest new features in Android 13
Unlucky for some? Google's mobile OS is gearing up for its latest iteration
Google gave Android a visual spit-and-polish with Material You, a major part of Android 12. It landed first on Pixel devices, and has slowly been making its way to other manufacturers’ phones, but the hottest new thing is here, and installed as standard on some of the best smartphones on sale right now. There are plenty of Android 13 features to get your head around.
It isn’t a major departure in terms of styling – instead it builds on the groundwork established by Material You. But that doesn’t mean it’s all back-end upgrades. It’s available as an over-the-air download for Google’s own Pixel phones, with third-party brands a step or two behind – most have started rolling out updates, at least for their most recent handsets, but others have been slower off the mark.
Whether you’ve had the update or are still waiting, here are the biggest new additions you should look out for.
More Material You
If Android 12 was the starting point for an all-new visual style, Android 13 streamlines it even further. Third-party app icons can now match your chosen colours, as well as Google’s own, for finer-grain control over how your homescreen looks. If you don’t want your theme colours to match your wallpaper, there are now a selection of complimentary presets to pick from.
The media control notification tray widget has picked up some Material You skills. It can now change colour based on album art, and the progress bar now grooves along to the beat of your tracks.
Originally tested as part of Android 12L, a beta OS built for big screens, Android 13 makes the most of some of those tweaks on compatible devices. A new taskbar sits at the bottom of the screen now, putting frequently-used apps in easy reach even when you’re in apps. Want a full screen view? You can hide the taskbar and then swipe to bring it back.
The notification tray has been redesigned, with a new two-column layout that makes better use of the extra space of a tablet. Drag-and-drop multitasking is in, along with app pairs that you can keep pinned in the Recents view.
Google has either refreshed or plans to update more than 20 of its own apps with large screen support, including YouTube Music and Google Maps.
Leave your wallet at home
Google Pay morphed into Google Wallet ahead of Android 13’s arrival, as a one-stop shop for all your essentials. As well as the payment cards and loyalty cards already supported by Google Pay, the reborn Google Wallet will eventually support digital forms of identification. Google is working with governments worldwide to support driving licenses, with certain US states the first to get in on the action.
Office badges, hotel room keys and digital car keys are all promised, as well as a secure place to store your vaccination status. It will eventually be integrated with other Google apps, so Google Maps can display your subway card balance when you search for directions. It’s not one of the integral Android 13 features though, given it lives in the Play Store rather than as part of the OS.
Multi-device plays nice
Having laid the groundwork with Chromecast and Fast Pair, Google aimed to make inter-device use even more seamless with Android 13. Casting is being extended from phones, PCs and TVs to new devices, including certain cars. If a call comes in on your phone while you’re watching a video on a tablet, your headphones will automatically switch audio.
It’ll be possible to copy text, web URLs and pictures on a phone, and paste them on a tablet without needing to manually share them first. Matter, the incoming smart home standard, makes it all possible, and is baked in to Android 13.
Even more secure
Security was a big part of Android 12, but there’s always room for improvement. One of the big focuses is RCS support for Google Messages, which is getting end-to-end encryption for group chats. Right now, it’s only good for one-to-one messages, but wider support should be arriving later this year.
Apps will now need to ask permission for individual files or images when sharing, rather than gaining access to your entire photo library, and a new security screen will highlight areas you might want to improve in order to keep your data safe from ne’er-do-wells.
…and the rest
Smaller, but still welcome Android 13 features also made the cut. Copy and paste changes now more clearly confirm when you’ve added something to the clipboard by showing a preview of what you’ve copied. Media controls are consistent across tablets and smartphones, and a whole bunch of under-the-skin APIs have been streamlined as well.