Google Android 12 preview: Everything we know so far

A look at new features and which phones can run the preview version

We don’t get cute treat-inspired names for each Android revision anymore, but the annual upgrades are still coming - and Android 12 was just announced.

Google launched a developer’s preview of Android 12 today for a handful of Pixel phones, and it’ll be months before the full-fledged version launches later this year. Of course, as any longtime Android phone owner can tell you, it could be much longer before your device gets the upgrade… assuming that ever happens.

It’s early days still, but we have details on Google’s planned rollout for Android 12 as well as some of the new features coming in the 2021 upgrade. Here’s what you need to know.

When will Android 12 be released?

The first developer’s preview was released for limited handsets today, 18 February, but it’ll be several more months before the full version of Android 12 is released. Consider that the annual launch is usually tied to that of new Pixel phones in the autumn and you have a sense of when to expect Android 12 to officially roll out.

Luckily, Google has become really good about communicating these sorts of things with the annual launches. Google plans to release developers previews through April before giving way to proper beta releases that are more stable. That should happen between May and approximately August 2021, according to an official timeline, with the full release pegged for some time thereafter. We would guess September or October.

What features does Android 12 add?

The developer preview just released and folks are only starting to play around with it and see what they can find. Google hasn’t let on too much: the official support materials mostly point to under-the-hood enhancements, although some of those are worth a shout.

For example, more of the Android operating system can be updated through Google Play, which means less reliance on phone manufacturers to push out their full OS upgrades. With Android 12, the Android Runtime (ART) module has been added to the list of OS components that can be easily upgraded via the Play Store, so you’ll get enhancements quicker no matter which phone you use.

There’s also a lot of detail about improved media encoding support, making it easier for apps to support rich visual content, multi-channel spatial audio, speedier transitions from notifications to their respective apps, and optimizations for tablets, foldable phones, and TVs. Read more about some of those technical enhancements here at the official Android Developers blog.

XDA Developers has pointed out some changes they’ve found while going hands-on, including new Material NEXT design tweaks such as fresh accent colors and tweaks to the lock screen and notifications. Additionally, the interface seems to be more one-hand friendly as larger phones are very much the norm now.

Earlier in February, XDA Developers shared the leaked screenshots above that are purported to be from Android 12, even if not all of those changes are seen in the developer preview right now. It’s entirely possible that more of the consumer-facing features coming in Android 12 will be unveiled later this year, while there’s more of a focus on the technical stuff for now.

Which devices will get Android 12?

Right now, to run the first developers preview, you’ll need a Pixel 5 or any Pixel 4 or Pixel 3 model. That includes the Pixel 4a and Pixel 3a models, as well, so even those with mid-range Pixels can give it a shot. This is just an early revision, so Google is keeping it to in-house products for now.

That will ultimately change, although at this point, it’s unknown whether Google will officially support other makers’ devices during the beta period. The last two years, makers such as OnePlus, Oppo, Xiaomi, and Asus have launched the current Android beta on their respective flagships, so it may well happen again with the Android 12 beta.

Upon the full launch, we would expect any Android flagship phone from at least the last year to get the update, and potentially older ones too. It really varies by manufacturer and what kinds of promises of support they’ve made. For example, Samsung has said that it will provide its Galaxy S, recent Galaxy A, and foldable phones with three years’ worth of Android updates, so you’re sure to get Android 12. It just might take a while for Sammy to put its skin on things.